Mitsubishi says Thai car market growing again

With Thailand’s economy revving into a higher gear, the head of Mitsubishi Motors (Thailand) said growth has returned to the Kingdom’s car market after a four-year slump, and he is predicting a strong performance in 2018 that should benefit vehicle makers from all countries in the Kingdom, as Toyota began testing an electric-car ride-sharing service in Bangkok.

“The market started picking up in 2017, especially after the government’s stimulus measures and megaprojects began driving the overall economy,” said Morikazu Chokki, president and chief executive officer of Mitsubishi Thailand. “These factors will build positive momentum going into 2018, and will expand to the car industry as well as other sectors of the economy.”

The Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) recently reported that car sales from January to October rose by 11.7 percent to 689,266 units. Chokki said that he believes the final figures for the year will be 850-860,000 vehicles, for an increase between 10 percent and 11 percent.

Thailand has long been known as the Detroit of Southeast Asia because virtually every major global vehicle maker manufactures in the Kingdom, both for domestic sales and export. But the domestic market slowed considerably four years ago following a first-car buyer rebate program that artificially inflated sales for a period. The slump that followed was exacerbated by a slowing economy.

The after-effects of the rebate program have now dissipated and the economy has recovered with growth accelerating.

Mitsubishi rates fourth in Thailand in domestic car sales behind Toyota, Isuzu and Honda. But Chokki has ambitions for greater market share, and he expects the company to account for 8 percent of domestic car sales in 2018, a figure Mitsubishi’s strong sales are already approaching this year.

The company reported sales of 54,454 vehicles from January to October, a 22.7 percent year-on-year increase.

Meanwhile, market leader Toyota, in collaboration with Chulalongkorn University, launched an electric-car-sharing pilot project in Bangkok, the second city outside of Japan that it has launched such a project. Named Ha:mo, for harmonious mobility network, it involves 10 electric compact cars that are shared on the Chulalongkorn campus, with 20 more coming from Japan next year.

The project’s purpose is to study motorists’ behavior over a two-year period. The area is typified by population density and lack of parking spaces. The parking spaces available charge high fees.

Should Thai drivers take to car sharing, Toyota would present its findings and lobby the government to scale up car sharing throughout the capital and perhaps beyond in areas where conditions are appropriate.