BANGKOK - Nissan Motor launched its much-awaited, low-cost compact car on Friday, aiming to become a major force in the fast-growing segment with a global sales target of one million units a year by 2013.
Nissan executives said the company would produce 90,000 of the five-door hatchbacks, built on new versatile platform vehicle underpinnings, at its suburban Bangkok plant in the year starting April 1, of which 70,000 would be for export.
The 1,200-cc engine compact, called March in Thailand, China and Japan, and Micra in India, Europe and other markets, is being sold in a price range of 375,000-537,000 baht ($11,500-$16,500), about 20 percent cheaper than similar cars from rivals.
Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga said at the global launch that the compact would be sold in more than 160 countries, with Thailand one of four main manufacturing and export hubs along with China, India and Mexico.
He expected production in China to begin in the second half of this year, but declined to provide other details, including its pricing in key Asian markets.
Shiga did not say when his firm would introduce the vehicle in India, where Nissan is looking to take on market leaders Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and Hyundai Motor Co.
Production of the March model would nearly double Nissan's Thai car output to 200,000 units a year.
The Micra/March is the Japanese car maker's most important model in years, the culmination of extensive experimenting with new materials and component designs for production in low-cost countries, Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said at its unveiling at the Geneva car show in early March.
Nissan is the first of six global car makers to obtain generous Thai government incentives to produce small vehicles under the country's eco-car projects.
Other companies licensed to compete with Nissan in the same segment are Toyota Motor, Mitsubishi Motors, Honda Motor, Suzuki Motor and India's Tata Motors Ltd.
According to the state-run Board of Investment, eco-cars are passenger cars that must meet safety, low fuel consumption and EURO 4 emission standards.
The BOI offers these companies corporate tax exemption for at least five years provided their production reaches 100,000 a year within the first five years of operation.
It said last year the licensed car manufacturers would enjoy cuts of up to 90 percent in import tariffs for foreign car parts and material used for producing the vehicles.
The parts entitled to low tariffs must not yet be produced by local producers, it said. ($1 = 32.60 baht) (Editing by Alan Raybould)