Thailand Eco-Car Phase II: potholes ahead

As Thailand gears up to implement the second phase of the Eco-Car Program, carmakers worry about a glut of vehicles even as they grapple with new regulations and new production volumes.

By Kon Thueanmunsaen calendar 31 Jan 2014 Views icon17584 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Thailand Eco-Car Phase II: potholes ahead

As Thailand gears up to implement the second phase of the Eco-Car Program, carmakers worry about a glut of vehicles  even as they grapple with new regulations and new production volumes.


As the application deadline of end-March 2014 approaches, the Thai automotive industry is getting increasingly excited over the second phase of the Eco-Car program. However, carmakers are a lot more nervous, contemplating how to grasp this opportunity. They have several challenges to surmount before they fully utilise this second wave of fortune; how they decide to do this will impact largely on the development of the Thai automotive industry as the first phase did recently, and on Thailand’s dream of producing three million vehicles.

This first part of a series dedicated to Eco-Car II will investigate limitations on the supply side, followed by discussing constraints on demand.

To begin with, there is a question over how much carmakers would need to commit as a minimum requirement of the new investment (five billion baht for former participants and 6.5 billion baht for new participants), and especially for the five participants of the first phase – Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Toyota. It is unlikely that these OEMs would be willing or be able to invest as much as another five billion baht in expanding existing facilities, when they had already invested in a very similar product only a few years ago. This amount of money could potentially cover half the cost of a whole new plant, going on Nissan’s recent announcement regarding its new investment for 2017. In addition, these OEMs already invested in increasing engine localisation as part of the first-phase program which required that four out of five engine components are to be sourced locally, further restricting future investments that will be needed.



Another question has risen over the requirement of expanding production volume by another 100,000 units from the fourth year. In fact, there is already high excess supply for sub-compact cars produced in Thailand. Since 2010, when the first Eco-Car model began production, more than 40 percent of all sub-compact car output was absorbed by foreign markets. This ratio is expected to increase to around 60 percent in a few years, even without the addition of phase two of the Eco-Car program. Further installation of capacity in a very limited domestic market capacity and a comparatively limited export market underlines limitations on the supply side. More details of the market side will be discussed in the next issue of Autocar Professional.

Moreover, the concept of production consolidation, which has been a key factor contributing to the success of the Thai auto industry in establishing the kingdom as a global production hub for one-tonne pickup trucks, cannot be easily applied to passenger car production. Production consolidation was logical, as the pickup market is naturally niche and fragmented in the global market, and it made sense to utilise the economy of scale and to bring all production into one place. Previously there were not many locations that actually produced trucks. In contrast, passenger cars are products traditionally found in every single market, and production especially for sub-compact cars in which the Eco-Car sub-segment falls, is distributed throughout the globe. A lot of pressure is expected with further concentration of production of sub-compact cars in Thailand.

Under the first phase, production of a few Eco-Car models, namely the Nissan March, Mitsubishi Mirage and the Suzuki Swift, had already been taken from the OEM’s home markets of Japan. There was pressure on these OEMs and their commitments to maintain a level of production in their home markets, especially after the depreciation of the yen.

This constraint was further pushed by competition for local production in the traditional export market of Thai cars. Indonesia, for example, recently launched its LCGC (Low Cost Green Car) project, and has attracted a huge amount of investment from OEMs which participated in the first phase of the Eco-Car program. Although cars produced under the LCGC are likely to be smaller, there are some overlaps.

Honda, which used to export the Brio from Thailand to Indonesia, has since begun producing a variant locally, named the Brio Satya.

Competition for local production is also expected within other global production hubs. In other words, further reinforcement of Thai production will not only transform OEMs’ strategies on regional production, but also on the global production network. This is, however, a very tough task. The Honda Brio, for example, is also currently produced in India for export to other South Asian and African countries. Production of the Suzuki Swift, which was previously in Hungary, was recently shifted back to Japan to improve the capacity utilisation rate in the country.

Another challenge for most OEMs falls on their future product planning, since at this point in time the results of the first phase of the Eco-Car program have not yet crystallised. Domestic sales in Thailand have yet to stabilise from the government’s special subsidy on first car purchases in 2012.

Of the five participants, only Nissan and Mitsubishi have reached the 100,000 unit production threshold, with the former seeing a decline of quarterly production at less than 25,000 units since the third quarter of this year. Honda and Suzuki, in the third and second year of production respectively, have struggled to reach even half of the target. This is also true for Toyota, which launched its first Eco-Car model only recently, amid concerns of overall weakening demand.


Kon Thueanmunsaen is Senior Analyst, ASEAN LMC Automotive


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