Sammitr Motors Group, the auto parts maker, foresees a thriving business in compressed natural gas retrofits, aiming to sell 2,400 CNG pickups this year.
The group sold 2,000 CNG retrofit pickup trucks in 2012, with sales expected to get a boost this year from a new variant of Sammitr's CNG pickup, also based on the 2.7-litre Toyota Hilux Vigo.
Launched yesterday, the variant contains five CNG tanks instead of the usual three, letting the truck run as far as 620 kilometres (up from 320).
"Most of our sales, up to 80%, come from commercial pickup trucks, and we will stay active in this segment," said Surayut Posirisuk, managing director of Sammitr Green Power Co (SGP), a unit of Sammitr Motors that runs the CNG retrofitting business.
SGP started out providing CNG retrofit service to the world's leading car makers in 2003. It has since installed CNG engines in more than 50,000 cars.
After working with Volkswagen in China for six years, SGP expanded its business into Thailand in 2008 and has received a positive response from local car makers.
SGP also sells NGV (natural gas vehicle) pickups. It designs NGV engine retrofits for car makers and recently entered the alternative energy development business.
CNG pickups that SGP sells in the Thai market include single-cab, extended-cab and double-cab trucks based on the Hilux Vigo.
According to Mr Surayut, the group expects to kick off operations at a new plant in eastern Bangkok by year-end.
Sammitr decided late last year to move its CNG retrofitting business to Bang Na-Trat Road in eastern Bangkok after its operations in Bang Kae district in western Bangkok were hit by flooding in 2011.
The relocation was also prompted by growing demand for CNG pickups. The company will spend 1 billion baht to build at the 10-rai site. The new plant will double the firm's monthly capacity to 1,000 vehicles.
The Bang Kae site will be turned into a CNG service centre and parts warehouse.
According to Mr Surayut, SGP is also interested in retrofitting CNG engines for other pickup brands and expanding into the export market.
The company also hopes to add 10 service centres to the current 11, mostly in central Thailand, and spend 20% of its annual revenue on TV ads.
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Writer: Piyachart Maikaew