Bangkok sig­nals to over­take

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - CARSGUIDE.COM.AU - Mark Hinch­liffe

THAI­LAND is fast be­com­ing the new Detroit, as car-mak­ers flock to the cen­tral Asian coun­try to build ev­ery­thing from light cars to pick-up trucks and SUVs.

In 2005, Thai­land was the sec­ond-biggest coun­try of ori­gin for Aus­tralian ve­hi­cles with 84,831 sales, be­hind Ja­pan with 378,758 and ahead of South Korea (78,719).

It has since been marginally over­taken by South Korea but its ex­ports to Aus­tralia have also in­creased dra­mat­i­cally to 96,603 in the first seven months of this year, com­pared with Ja­pan’s 213,575.

In 1998, Honda Aus­tralia be­came the first com­pany to im­port its pas­sen­ger cars from Thai­land.

It has taken 12 years for the Ja­panese brand to feel se­cure enough in its Thai qual­ity to boast about the prod­ucts. Last week, Honda took five jour­nal­ists to Bangkok to visit its fac­tory at Ayut­thaya, 80km north of the nation’s cap­i­tal, to as­sure cus­tomers about its build qual­ity.

Honda Aus­tralia boss Satoshi Mat­suzawa says there has ‘‘never been any re­sis­tance to our cars be­ing built in Thai­land be­cause they are built by Honda’’.

About 80 per cent of Honda ve­hi­cles sold in Aus­tralia are made in Thai­land.

Honda Aus­tralia spokesman Mark Hig­gins says ‘‘more and more man­u­fac­tur­ers are com­ing here (Thai­land) to build cars’’.

They in­clude most pick-up trucks sold in Aus­tralia, the Mazda2, and soon more small cars from Ford and Suzuki.

The Thai-Honda Aus­tralia story be­gan in 1998, with 778 ve­hi­cles.

In 2005, the free trade agree­ment be­tween Aus­tralia and Thai­land and the shift of Jazz pro­duc­tion from Ja­pan to Bangkok dra­mat­i­cally in­creased the ex­ports to 14,071.

In 2007, Thai’s Honda ex­ports to Aus­tralia tal­lied 51,424, be­fore drop­ping off sub­stan­tially dur­ing the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis. This year they are ex­pected to reach 40,197.

But that is still a small pro­por­tion of the to­tal 240,000 an­nual ca­pac­ity of the Thai Honda fac­tory, which oc­cu­pies 851,800sq m and em­ploys about 5000 Thai staff and 80 Ja­panese man­agers.

They work two to three shifts a day, with two weeks’ hol­i­day a year and free meals pro­vided by Honda.

But work­ing con­di­tions are not idyl­lic, with Thai­land’s op­pres­sively hot and hu­mid cli­mate mit­i­gated in the body and frame plant by open­ing a whole wall to pre­vail­ing winds in­stead of us­ing air­con­di­tion­ing in an ef­fort to ‘‘save elec­tric­ity’’.

Honda Au­to­mo­tive Thai­land Cor­po­ra­tion vice-pres­i­dent Makoto Morii says the plant is 50 per cent au­to­mated, com­pared with Ja­panese fac­to­ries with 90 per cent au­to­ma­tion.

‘‘We use more hand weld­ing be­cause the salary is lower here,’’ he says.

‘‘In­stead of in­vest­ing in ex­pen­sive ma­chin­ery, we can hire more peo­ple here. In terms of me­chan­i­cal skill, the Thais and Ja­panese are of the same level.’’

AU­TO­MATIC: The Honda fac­tory in Thai­land can make 240,000 cars a year and em­ploys about 5000 work­ers.

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