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Asia: Electric-car project shifts into higher gear

With the eco-car becoming a roaring success, BoI looks to speed up plans for ‘third champion product’

It seems that the rising popularity of the eco-car is driving the Board of Investment (BoI) to accelerate plans for the “third champion product” – the electric car project – that would continue to carry the torch in Thailand’s quest to become an automotive superpower.

More than 200,000 eco-cars have been sold, and there’s a waiting list of more than 20,000 for each model. The models in the market are the Nissan March and Almera, the Honda Brio, the Mitsubishi Mirage and the Suzuki Swift.

BoI secretary-general Atchaka Sibunruang told The Nation that once all five manufacturers (the other is Toyota) reach maximum production capacity of 100,000 cars per year, investment in the eco-car project would exceed Bt200 billion. This means that from today, more than Bt100 billion will pour in thanks to the project.

But in terms of maintaining a steady growth for the future, the BoI is looking at the third champion product and is formulating a package in order to create motivation for investors as well as clearly announce investment promotions for automotive companies.

The BoI is already talking with electric car specialists like Mitsubishi and Suzuki to find the right direction, whether in terms of tax structure, investment requirements, production capacity or infrastructure.

Atchaka previously said she and the prime minister had discussed policies of attracting Japanese investors to start off a hybrid battery production base in Thailand. Premier Yingluck Shinawatra is expected to negotiate investment requirements during her next road show to Osaka, Japan.

She said this scheme would follow the eco-car project, which was promoted during the last two years. Electric cars would be ideal as a follow-up project but Thailand must be able to produce the batteries. The BoI is preparing to approach the government concerning the policies and conditions for investment, which should be concluded in the near future.

“All auto manufacturers see the possibility of electric car production, whether it is Mitsubishi or Suzuki or Nissan. If we can finalise the investment details, it would help Thailand become an electric vehicle production base in the near future. When that time arrives, battery technology would have improved and would be much cheaper with mass production. This would drive down the cost of producing electric cars, and demand will follow. The next 2-3 years is the right period for going ahead with the electric car project as the eco-car project is stabilising,” she said.

TAIA: Time to go high-tech

Thai Automobile Industry Association (TAIA) president Piengjai Kaewsuwan said his association has started discussing with auto-makers the direction of the third champion product.


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