Auto sales will surpass 1 million for the first time in five years

In a sure sign the Thai economy is shifting into a higher gear, sales of new vehicles are forecast to surpass the 1 million mark for the first time in five years as sales rose by over 20 percent during the first nine months of 2018.

During that period, sales of new passenger cars and commercial vehicles rose 20.3 percent from a year earlier to 746,584 units, according to figures compiled by Toyota Motor Thailand, the country’s leading carmaker. Antoine Barthes, president of rival Nissan Motor Thailand, said 2018 full-year sales are “highly likely” to reach 1 million units.

Thailand has long had the largest vehicle-manufacturing base in Southeast Asia with nearly every major Japanese, European and American carmakers manufacturing in the Kingdom for export. The local market was also strong and growing steadily.

The Kingdom has the second-largest domestic car market in Southeast Asia. September represented the 13th straight month that the Thai car market posted double-digit percentage growth.

Aurapong Paisitpatanapong, the vice-chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said domestic sentiment was positive in the absence of political conflicts and so sales should continue to rise. The Kingdom had achieved annual sales of 1 million vehicles in the past.

After a few years in which sales were anemic, they have begun climbing once again, to the delight of carmakers competing in the Thai market. Japanese automakers dominate that market, but American companies have been making some inroads.

The Ford Ranger, for instance, recently became the best-selling pickup truck in Thailand. For passenger cars, however, the Big Three United States carmakers trail far behind.

In related news, a local research institute said last week that it expects Thailand’s manufacturing productivity will begin to rise for the first time in over a decade because the economy is in a period of solid growth.

A survey of over 90,000 factories across the Kingdom conducted by the Puey Ungpakorn Institute for Economic Research found that few had invested significantly in productivity improvement measures during the past decade, but sentiment has begun to shift towards more positive territory.

The Institute recommended that the government adjust certain regulations governing small businesses so they would be encouraged to invest more in productivity improvement.