Sakun C pushes brand awareness in niche customer markets
Sakun C Innovation, the vehicle marketing arm of Thailand's top auto body maker Choknamchai Group (CNG), is planning to make a Thai vehicle brand more internationally recognised through its vehicle assembling technology.
This is the time to trumpet a Thai brand after the country has been a global automotive production hub for almost 50 years, CNG founder Namchai Sakunchoknamchai told members of a House committee on energy during their recent visit to his factory in Suphan Buri.
Thai auto parts makers are well-known for product quality and cost control, but their supply chain lacks a brand to compete and build a reputation on.
For over two decades Sakun C has supplied vehicle bodies to leading car assemblers worldwide. The manufacturer wants to take centre stage in the market through selective marketing strategies.
Leaving the red ocean
Sakun C chief executive Weeraphon Techaphasuksanti said the company will avoid fighting with the world's leading passenger cars, which currently dominate the market of combustion engine-powered vehicles.
Some car makers in Asean aiming to promote their national brands pit their strength against giant car companies, only to be defeated.
Mr Weeraphon said it is better to target certain customers, serving those who want vehicles for specific purposes such as ferries, patrol boats, ambulances and electric boats.
He believes Sakun C can perform well in these segments because of its outstanding technology.
In November last year, the company debuted the world's first aluminium body for diesel-powered buses at the 2019 Bus and Truck Show.
Since then it has received purchase orders, including for 600 units this year, for 20-seat buses for private operators.
The company also aims to work with state-run Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA), which plans to buy 5,000 new buses for feeder services for commuters of various transport channels, including the city's electric train systems.
BMTA is considering which engine types -- internal combustion or electric vehicles (EVs) -- will be most appropriate.
Sakun C executive director Weerapon Chaiteerath said the company first wants to supply an aluminium body to BMTA as it also has a plan to upgrade its ageing buses.
When more charging outlets are available, it will focus more on EV market, he said.
One of its future projects is to enter the electric taxi market, providing products for drivers who want to move away from combustion engines.
The company also wants to tap into the locomotive segment, which requires companies with expertise in making aluminium bodies.
In the short term, Sakun C recently signed an agreement with State Railways of Thailand on a new locomotive project.
A trial run is expected at the end of this year from Bang Sue Central Station in Bangkok to Suphan Buri.
Within four years, Mr Weerapon said, Sakun C will be recognised as a Thai brand with innovative technology.
The technology, which primarily promotes safety, is inspired by frequent accidents in boat transport.
"We selected boats and ferries when we started creating our brand because severe ferry accidents caused a negative impact to the tourism sector," said Mr Namchai, looking back to Sakun C Innovation's establishment in 2015.
"We wanted to use our skills to make ferries safer for travel."
Mr Weeraphon said technology in auto parts production that can be applied to ferry assembly led his firm to produce the first boat for an operator on the Chao Phraya River.
The decision led the company to become a major small boat assembler, well-known among state authorities and companies.
The aluminium structure for boats is three times lighter than steel bodies, takes one month to assemble and has a longer product life, although the price is three times higher than for steel, which requires more than a year to be built.
Sakun C uses polyurethane to make part of its inner structure, making it safer than boats made from steel and fibreglass.
Steel and fibreglass are inflammable and prone to rust.
Over the past five years, the company has worked with researchers from various state agencies to come up with technologies that keep products in line with national and international standards.
This innovative aluminium formula enables Sakun C to build a stronger body structure, allowing it to make larger boats for cruising in rivers and seas.
The large boats and ferries have been assembled for operators in many provinces and the company is scheduled to deliver electric ferries to customers within the second half this year.
Several other operators of ferries and boats with specific purposes are in talks with Sakun C to buy over 100 units.
Mr Weerapon said Sakun C is preparing for its listing on the Stock Exchange of Thailand in the next 1-2 years to gain capital from an IPO.
The company's registered capital is valued at 400 million baht. Other assets include an assembling factory, covering 200 rai in Suphan Buri.
In 2019 Sakun C earned 50 million baht in revenue, which is expected to grow to 200 million this year.
The firm believes revenue can reach 1 billion baht in 2021.
CNG has grown significantly and become a leader in producing automotive dyes and parts, supplying the products to top car makers.
House energy committee chairman Kittikorn Losunthorn said he supports the company's idea to make a Thai vehicle brand more well-known.
Local companies also need state help in transitioning towards EV technology, he said.