Ford upbeat on ASEAN, highest sales in Thailand


The regional chief of Big Three American automaker Ford Motor Corporation said last week he remains optimistic about the company’s prospects in Southeast Asia and expects significant sales growth in Thailand even though it plans to close its production facility in Indonesia.

“Our Thailand operation has gained in market share against the sluggish market,’’ said Mark Kaufman, president of Ford ASEAN. “We could also post significant growth in the Philippines and Viet Nam.”

Last year, in the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Ford sold a combined 103,975 units, a gain of 3.3 percent. With 36,465 vehicles sold in Thailand in 2015, the Kingdom was the top market for Ford vehicles, although the total was 4.3 percent lower than a year earlier. Nonetheless, its market share rose significantly from 0.3 percent to 4.6 percent.

Vehicle sales in Thailand have weakened as economic growth has not achieved levels seen in previous decades and consumers have become more cautious in making major purchases. The market is far from saturated, however, and sales should pick up as the economy continues its steady but slow recovery. A weak global economic environment has dampened exports, the chief engine of Thai economic growth.

Nonetheless, the commitment of American automakers to Thailand remains strong. Ford’s operation in Thailand will become more important after the company completes its business restructuring in ASEAN, Kaufman said.

Ford has two assembly plants in the Kingdom in Rayong province on the Eastern Seaboard, Thailand’s industrial heartland. One is a joint venture with Mazda and turns out 240,000 vehicles a year, half of which are Ford vehicles. The other plant, run solely by Ford, produces 180,000 vehicles a year.

“Vehicles made in Thailand in completely built-up form will be shipped to many countries in ASEAN and Oceania while the completely knock-down ones will serve Ford’s operation in Vietnam for assembly,” Kaufman said.

Thailand’s car market is among the largest in ASEAN for decades and has long been known as the “Detroit of Southeast Asia” because of its large vehicle market and the size of its vehicle assembly industry. Japanese automakers were among the earliest to invest in manufacturing in the Kingdom and came to dominate the local market beginning in the 1980s.

Automakers from the U.S. started making serious efforts to penetrate the Thai and regional markets in the late 1990s, and since the turn of the century have invested significantly in assembly plants in the Kingdom, although the lion’s share of the vehicles they produce are exported.