By Kingsley Wijayasinha
Toyota officials, led by Asia Pacific president Susumu Matsuda, met with deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak on September 4 and confirmed Thailand's status as a key production hub of the automaker.
Somkid said Toyota had invested in hybrid vehicle production here, in order to create an economy of scale for the future.
“We have told Toyota to speed up the launch EVs in Thailand in line with the country's goal of becoming a production and export hub for electric vehicles,” he said.
Toyota currently has four EV models that should go on sale in Thailand, rather than the conventional hybrids, he said.
“Toyota may want to maximise profits from previous investments before adjusting (its product lineup), but we have told them to make a swift decision because the new generation of Thai motorists prefers EVs to vehicles powered by combustion engines,” Somkid said.
Somkid did not mention a timeframe, but industry experts have expressed doubts that Toyota would speed up its plan for EVs in Thailand, or even go a step up with PHEVs (Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicles). as was the case with several European luxury car makers.
“Toyota is a very big company and large delivery of each model is required,” said an industry source. “Small volume models have been taken off the market before. For Toyota to start offering PHEVs or EVs in Thailand, there must be a significant demand and this will take at least 5-10 years.”
Toyota EVs that will welcome visitors at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Somkid also asked Toyota to consider developing the Thai workers' skills, particularly in engineering and automotive technologies.
“We have collaborated with leading companies including Google and Huawei. Toyota’s participation in human resources development in Thailand will be rewarded with additional privileges from the Thai government. Also, it will further strengthen our bond with Japan,” he said, adding that Thailand could also serve as Toyota's human resources centre for CLMV countries.
The Japanese automaker currently assembles hybrid vehicles in Thailand with the Camry and newly-launched Corolla coming in hybrid versions.
Toyota officials said hybrids have three major components – traction motor, battery management system and drive control unit. It wants the Thai government to look into battery-production costs as EVs require a large number of batteries.
The government is also interested in working with Toyota on smart farming. The Japanese automaker has already done much research and development in this field for the benefits of Thai farmers.