OEMs make Bangkok a showcase for ASEAN
The 2013 Bangkok Motor Show saw Ford, Suzuki and Mitsubishi reveal products targeted both at Thailand and the emerging ASEAN market. Karthik H reports
The 34th Bangkok International Motor Show was a marked change from its previous editions that usually focus on products for the Thailand market. The 2013 show was a more international display, mixed with unique Thai flavour. As one of the few motor shows in the world that allow car sales to be held beside the showcase, car manufacturers are only too happy to expand their stalls in Bangkok. The show, held at Impact Forum Hall and organised by Grand Prix International, saw closer to two million visitors throng the halls between March 27 and April 7. Here’s looking at what some of the companies showcased. Ford EcoSport debuts in the ASEAN market
Ford Motor Company made the ASEAN debut of the EcoSport SUV. The EcoSport in Thai spec will feature the Ford SYNC voice-activated in-car connectivity system. The new Fiesta, a hatchback for the Thai market, was also revealed. This car is likely to get the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine.
Ford’s commitment to the ASEAN region was highlighted by the presence of president and CEO Alan Mulally at the launch of the EcoSport. Mulally expects 60 to 70 percent of Ford’s global sales growth to come from the Asia Pacific region within this decade, with the ASEAN region playing a key role. Mulally also mentioned that the One Ford Plan will extend to powertrains also, with the EcoBoost engine playing a central role. Thailand will also become only the fourth location for the manufacture of the EcoSport, joining the ranks of Brazil, China and India. “As the fastest growing brand in Thailand, Ford will expand its outlets and concentrate on after-sales service,” said Mulally.
As with most brands, Thailand acts as a centre of exports to the ASEAN region for Ford and this trend will continue with the EcoSport too. The compact SUV will be sold in more than a 100 countries with just four manufacturing locations around the world. It will be built at the $450 million Ford Thailand manufacturing facility in Rayong, the company’s second plant in Thailand and one of nine new Ford plants that are expected to open across the region by 2015.
Talking about the EcoBoost engine, Graham Pearson, vehicle line director for small cars in Ford Asia Pacific, said: “Customers are going to be delighted by how the junior member of the EcoBoost engine family punches above its weight.”
Mitsubishi's Concept G4 is also an eco-car
Mitsubishi took the opportunity to have the global unveiling of its Concept G4, a locally built global four-door saloon fitted with a CVT gearbox. The concept kicks off a new generation of compact ‘Eco Car’ saloon series for the carmaker. Mitsubishi claims the car will have superior manoeuvrability and promises the most generous interior space in its class with generous rear seat legroom. Extensive use of high-tensile steel has resulted in the Concept being the lightest car in its class. The car will be powered by a lightweight and compact engine mated to a CVT sub-geartrain. Mitsubishi’s RISE concept – Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution – has left the G4 with weight reduction all around.
According to Thai norms, cars with engines below 1.2 litres qualify for the Eco Car segment and enjoy easier excise norms. The company did not reveal the launch date for the G4. Mitsubishi has a 9 percent market share in a passenger car market of around 430,000 units in Thailand. The Mirage hatchback, which was launched in April last year and will soon be rolled out in Europe, has racked in decent numbers with about 38,000 units being sold till December 2012.
Mitsubishi also revealed the GR-HEV concept for a sports utility truck which delivers high mileage thanks to its diesel-hybrid system that is still under development. A 2.5-litre diesel engine mated to a hybrid electric system will help achieve an on-road CO2 emission of 149g/km or lower. The concept also uses a next-generation 4WD system which is an improved version of the system on the Pajero series.
The five-seater pick-up truck will compete in the emerging and popular pick-up truck segment in Thailand, which is the world’s second largest market for pick-ups after USA.. The entire pick-up truck segment accounted for 404,000 units in volume in 2012.
SsangYong is all about SUVs
The Mahindra Group-owned SsangYong had the the new Rexton and the Korando on its stand, along with the Kyron SUV. The Rexton is an upgrade compared to the one launched in India. As for the Korando, M&M has maintained that it is studying the Indian market to ascertain the right time to launch the vehicle here.
Mercedes-Benz's stylish new E-class
Mercedes-Benz Thailand launched the new avatar of the E-class saloon. The E400 is likely to be sold in its hybrid avatar in Thailand. Also on display were the CLS Shooting Brake, the new S-class and hot-hatch versions of the A250 and B-class cars.
Suzuki launches Ertiga, displays Carry
Suzuki saw the Bangkok show as the perfect opportunity to launch its Ertiga MPV in Thailand. Given the huge market for automatic transmissions in the country, the Thai-market Ertiga gets a four-speed automatic gearbox. The vehicle was showcased in three variants, with the bottom-end variant housing the same 1.4-litre K-series VVT engine as in India with a manual transmission. Suzuki also displayed the SX4 hatchback, termed the SX4 Crossover in Thailand.
Suzuki also displayed the Carry LCV. Powered by a 1.6-litre 92bhp engine, this rear-wheel-drive model has an LPG variant too. With a kerb weight of just over a tonne, the Carry has an official payload of 577kg and competes in Thailand's vast pick-up market.
Overall, this year’s show saw global OEMs make a concerted attempt to focus on the ASEAN market, with special attention to production in and export from Thailand. There's reason for that.
Thailand recently announced its new five-year master plan for theauto industry. The new plan has not specified a production target noridentified a new ‘product champion’ as in previous plans. The traditional approach was employed to allow economies of scale, and to maintain Thailand as a regional car production hub despite a relatively small domestic market.
The plan now aims to cope with the two most important challenges facing Thailand’s automotive industry: limited product types for global markets and the emergence of Indonesia as the biggest market in ASEAN. Thailand’s production is heavily dependent on exports (46 percent of output on average in 2005-2011). With domestic market growth likely to be subdued, the need to further expand exports to maintain output in a tough global environment will become imperative.
INTERVIEW WITH DR PRACHIN EAMLUMNOW, PRESIDENT, GRAND PRIX INT'L
Can you explain the theme of this year’s show?
The ‘Street of automotive fashion’ concept caters to different people in the family by offering different products. The aim was to get manufacturers to bring in different models and ranges because Thai people want to have different cars for different family members. Even the booth design depicts more creativity compared to how it used to be. We had taken both the constructors and booth designers to Frankfurt to see the latest in this field.
Where does Thailand stand after the floods two years ago?
The government is giving full support for the auto industry. Honda will complete its plant in 2015 and have a capacity of 120,000 cars per year. Japan reposes a lot of trust in us, even though our minimum wage has been increased to 300 Baht/day. Thailand as a manufacturing country is not worried about OEMs building factories in Indonesia or anywhere else in the ASEAN region. The cars sold in Indonesia and India are mostly the same spec. But cars that are sold in Thailand or imported into Thailand are fully specced. Thai people will mostly buy high-end cars.
How many cars were sold during this year’s show?
Last year we sold around 57,000 units but this year, the numbers were 40,834. Last year, the government had a first-car buyer policy, so carmakers enjoyed good sales. This year was a little bit down.
There are talks of Formula 1 coming to Thailand
We anticipate F1 will come to Thailand in 2015. We don’t know the dates as yet. We’re only waiting for the Parliament’s permission to give the authority to close the streets. We don’t have to invest much for this, as we are not building a separate circuit. The race will be a night street race with equipment rented from Singapore. The investment will be 5 billion baht ($300 million.) 1.2 billion baht is the contract value with Bernie Ecclestone. Bernie might even alternate this with another country.
We will also have a separate F3 race track to cater to Superbike, MotoGP and Formula 3 and the supercar Asian GP race from Macau. It will be a 4.3km track and Dr Herman Tilke will design the circuit. We will never build a full F1 circuit. Our contract with FIA is in our hands, we’re waiting for the government to endorse it. Grand Prix International will help in promoting this race in Thailand.
Will the Bangkok Motor Show move to a new venue as it gets bigger?
The Bangkok Motor Show from next year will go bigger and target ASEAN and not just the domestic market. In another two years, we are expanding to another 20,000 square metres. The owners of the current location are considering destroying the parking lot and extending the halls. We are ready to expand, but the venue doesn’t have any more capacity.
We are one of the few motor shows in the world where car sales are allowed. We talked to the manufacturers and they wanted this to continue. The sale of cars is the money gained by the manufacturers to be invested back into the event. So that way they will not pull out of the event or downsize. In two years’ time, I anticipate not charging any entrance fees.
We’re also talking with Burma, Laos, and Cambodia to help organise a show there as consultants. Grand Prix International will be listed in the Bangkok Stock Exchange next year. With the extra investments, we will branch out as co-organisers of Laos or Burma or Cambodian motor shows.
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