TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp said it would close one of its four vehicle plants in Thailand as the economic crisis hammered exports, in a rare move for what was until a few years ago the world's fastest-growing carmaker.

Toyota said on Friday it would close its Thai Auto Works (TAW) factory, which builds the Fortuner and Vigo multi-purpose vehicles, at the end of this month, transferring production to two other Thai plants that also build the two models.

TAW would be the first factory in recent memory to be closed by Toyota purely for reasons of falling demand. Earlier this year, the world's biggest automaker closed a California factory held jointly with General Motors [GM.UL] after the latter pulled out of the venture as part of its post-bankruptcy restructuring.

The Thai factory, in Samrong, on the outskirts of Bangkok, began operations in 1988 and has been producing about 60,000 vehicles a year, mainly for export to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Toyota does not disclose the factory's annual production capacity.

Toyota's total production in Thailand fell by nearly a quarter to 435,000 units in 2009.

The decision to close the factory had been reached last November as part of Toyota's ongoing efforts to find ways to more efficiently make use of its global manufacturing facilities, a spokeswoman said.

TAW's 960 workers would be transferred to Toyota's other Thai factories, a spokeswoman said. Toyota has not decided whether to liquidate TAW, held 80 percent by affiliate Toyota Auto Body.

Many automakers have been burdened by excess capacity as the global economic crisis hit demand for cars in the past year and a half. Toyota is especially vulnerable after it raced to build new factories around the world over the past decade to meet runaway demand for its popular cars.

Toyota has said it would also aim to bring its annual production capacity in Japan down to about 3.2 million units over the next five to six years from 3.9 million now, by reorganising its assembly lines, and without any plant closures.

Toyota's shares fell 1.9 percent in morning trade in Tokyo, mirroring a fall in other auto stocks. (Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim)