Thailand will become a global top-10 carmaker in the next five years, with annual output reaching 3 million units, says Surapong Paisitpatanapong, spokesman for the automobile industry club of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI).
He said even though the industry was badly affected by last year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan and flooding in Thailand, the tax rebate under the government's first-time car buyer scheme will help the industry to recover and experience rapid growth.
Next year's domestic market looks healthy, while the automobile and auto parts sectors are among the few to weather the debt crisis in Europe that has adversely affected almost all other Thai exports, said Mr Surapong.
Last year, Thailand was the 15th-largest producer of all types of motor vehicles, according to the worldwide rankings by the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers.
The country came in sixth in terms of commercial vehicle production and 22nd in terms of car production.
In the first eight months of this year, automobile and parts exports grew by 21.2% year-on- year.
Mr Surapong said August automobile production exceeded 200,000 units for the fourth consecutive month.
Production increased by 37.3% year-on-year to 210,333 vehicles.
Total production from January to August reached 1.48 million units, an increase of 33% year-on-year.
Full-year vehicle production will exceed 2 million units.
The industry is scheduled to hold a party at Muang Thong Thani on Nov 30 to celebrate reaching the 2-million mark.
Domestic automobile sales increased by 63.9% year-on-year last month to 129,509 vehicles, driven by demand to meet huge backlogs from the first-time car buyer scheme.
Eight-month domestic sales were 867,703 units, up by 48.6% year-on-year.
August vehicle exports increased by 18% year-on-year to 85,279 units for revenue of 41.4 billion baht.
Eight-month vehicle exports totalled 639,986 units, up by 16% year-on-year.
However, weak global demand amid the euro-zone debt crisis caused industrial confidence in Thailand to decline to an eight-month low last month.
FTI chairman Payungsak Chartsuthipol said the Thai industries sentiment index fell to 98.5 points last month from 98.7 in July and 102.7 in June.
That makes two straight months the index has been below the 100-point level, showing that manufacturers remain worried about the effect of global financial problems, he said.
The industrial sector is also concerned about the possibility of a recurrence of flooding on a scale similar to last year and the effect of the daily minimum wage rising nationwide next Jan 1, said Mr Payungsak.
The FTI surveyed 1,099 people in 42 industrial groups.
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- Writer: Santan Santivimolnat