BANGKOK (AP) - Ford Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. said Tuesday their Thai joint venture will invest more than US$500 (euro355) million in a new small car production plant - the largest foreign investment in Thailand since last September's coup.
The investment, split evenly between Ford and Mazda, adds a new dimension to manufacturing now focused on pickup trucks. It will increase the production capacity at the AutoAlliance Thailand joint venture plant to 275,000 vehicles from 175,000, the companies said in a joint statement.
"This investment reaffirms our commitment to the Thai market," said John Parker, Ford's executive vice president for the Asia Pacific and Africa.
"When we consider our further investments we look at the longer-term broader perspective, and our view on that is positive,"
Parker said when asked about political and economic stability in the country.
Ford and Mazda will both start production at the plant in 2009 with the low-cost compact cars destined for domestic sales and export markets in Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Africa.
Up to 80 percent of the production will be exported, according to Robert J. Graziano, executive vice president at Mazda.
Thailand is already a major production and export hub for pickup trucks, and production at the AutoAlliance plant in Rayong province in eastern Thailand is currently made up of Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50 pickups, as well as the Ford Everest SUV.
The new small car models will be the Mazda2 and a small car based on Ford's Fiesta platform, both members of the so-called B-car category.
"We believe if we look at customer demographics and what customers are looking for in the ASEAN region, the B-car more naturally matches that customer requirement," Mazda's Graziano said. Mazda is 33.4 percent owned by Ford.
Foreign investment in Thailand suffered in the wake of the September 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra as prime minister. It has also been hurt by the central bank's capital controls, imposed last December. The army-appointed government is slated to hold elections on Dec. 23.
AutoAlliance Thailand, which has about 3,500 staff, will hire another 2,000 workers by 2009. Ford and Mazda estimate another 6,000 jobs will be indirectly created as a result of their investment.
Via their joint venture, the two companies have already invested about US$1 billion (euro710 million) in Thailand's auto manufacturing industry since 1995.
In September, Ford said its China joint venture Changan Ford Mazda Automobile will invest $510 million to build small cars there with an initial annual capacity of 160,000 vehicles.