After being granted electric vehicle (EV) privileges from the Board of Investment (BoI), Toyota Motor Thailand plans to make its hybrid model at the company's plant in Chachoengsao, to be introduced in early March.
The C-HR sport utility vehicle (SUV) is scheduled to be the first model rolled out under the government's EV scheme. Toyota recently announced retail prices of 1.069 and 1.159 million baht for the hybrid platform, while its petrol models cost 979,000 and 1.039 million.
Toyota said 3,000 customers have booked C-HRs, with 75% opting for the hybrid model.
Toyota was the first carmaker to apply for and receive BoI privileges for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) last year. The BoI said the firm assembles 7,000 HEVs a year, makes 70,000 batteries for electric cars and produces other parts such as doors, bumpers and front/rear axles, totalling 9.1 million units.
The company's total investment stands at 19 billion baht.
A source from the auto industry said six other makers have applied for EV project privileges: Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Suzuki, Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Apinont Suchewaboripont, executive vice-president for Toyota Motor Thailand, said the CHR will be produced at its Gateway plant, where other passenger cars such as the Camry hybrid sedan are made.
"We cannot disclose the initial capacity for hybrid cars, but our plans will be in line with local demand," he said. "Thai-made C-HRs are set for export to over 100 countries."
A battery plant is scheduled for development, targeted for opening by 2019-20. Until then, Toyota will import this vital component from Japan.
Michinobu Sugata, president of Toyota Motor Thailand, said the hybrid market in Thailand is set to improve gradually over the next decade, with the government issuing promotional privileges because the market for them remains small.
"Toyota believes the Thai market needs to grow step-by-step from the first stage of the hybrid platform before moving on to plug-in hybrids, battery-fuelled and hydrogen fuel-cell cars," he said.
In a related development, Toyota reported its 2017 sales volume in Thailand at 240,137 units, down 2% year-on-year and marking the fifth straight year of contraction.
Toyota controlled the largest share of the car market at 27.6% last year, albeit down 4.3 percentage points year-on-year.
Mr Sugata said the company's sales volume was well below its earlier projection of 265,000 units, as new and refreshed models introduced in 2017 did not perform as well as expected.
But the overall car market grew 13.3% to 870,748 vehicles sold, marking the first increase in five years.
For 2018, Toyota forecasts the market will grow by 3.4% to 900,000 vehicles, backed by an economy expected to grow 3.9% and an expected uptick in consumer confidence.
Toyota has set a sales target of 300,000 units this year, up 24.9%. The company further aims to claw back 5.7 percentage points in market share to 33.3%.