General Motors Co believes vehicle sales in Thailand could rise to more than 700,000 units this year as the economy proves resilient to recent political unrest and grows along with the rest of Southeast Asia.
In 2009, Thai auto sales totaled 549,000 units, according to Toyota Thailand data. At the moment, GM has just 2.5 percent of that market, way behind leader Toyota with 40 percent.
At a news conference in Bangkok, Martin Apfel, GM's president for Southeast Asian operations, said GM aimed to seek its fair share of a regional market where aggressive expansion plans have been made and first-half sales by its Chevrolet rose 24 percent.
Key markets in Southeast Asia are booming and the economy is really picking up again, Apfel said, putting Thailand among the ASEAN 'Big Three' markets along with Indonesia and Malaysia.
Indonesia had the best June ever and the industry this year may end up above 650,000 units. In Malaysia, a record first half growing 20 percent year on year. There's a lot of momentum in the market and the automotive business is a momentum business.
Despite months of political unrest on the street of Bangkok, GM's year-to-date sales in Thailand grew 24 percent from a year earlier.
For Thailand, (GDP) growth above 6.5 percent this year becomes actually a realistic prospect. The Thai market has the potential to grow above 700,000 units, Apfel said.
The central bank has forecast 6.5-7.5 percent growth in the economy, saying the political unrest had had little impact.
Thailand's vehicle sales hit a 10-year high in June, up 62.6 percent from a year earlier at 70,557 vehicles, as the political unrest failed to dent buyers' confidence.
Like rival global car makers Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co, GM is raising production in Thailand this year as the global economic recovery spurs domestic and export demand.
Apfel said GM expected to launch its Chevrolet Cruze sedan in Thailand this year after launches in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore although he declined to give further details.
The Detroit-based automaker is on track to invest about $500 million in a new diesel plant and other projects in eastern Rayong province to enhance its competitiveness and boost output.
The new plant will manufacture 4-cylinder advanced diesel engines for locally produced vehicles as well as for export.
In Southeast Asia, we're only at the beginning of our journey. We're now laying the foundation to ultimately get our fair share, Apfel said.
(Editing by Alan Raybould)