Five months. That’s how long Thailand’s automotive supply chain was disrupted by 2011’s catastrophic flooding that began at the end of July and ran through the start of the new year. Thailand was the 14th largest automobile producer in the world when flood waters damaged 65 of 77 provinces, killed more than 800 people, and left some areas under 6.5 ft. of water. Some automakers, like Honda, were forced to rebuild from the ground up. Other companies had to rethink production levels on a line-by-line basis based on supply of parts and electronic components (709 Tier I suppliers and 1,700 Tier II and III suppliers are located in Thailand). The flooding forced a freeze in automotive and computer chip manufacturing critical to the global supply chain. Everyone had to adjust, and adjust they did.
The country’s 16 assemblers produced 1.46-million vehicles (50.46% for export) in 2011 and have set a goal to reach the world’s top 10 by 2014, when their capacity is projected to hit 2.43-million units.
And to ensure that they haven’t forgotten that natural disasters aren’t isolated events (there are two monsoon seasons in Thailand, although they generally don’t wreak havoc a la 2011), the government has invested more than $11-billion in future flood defenses to
protect the country’s infrastructure which plays a significant role in attract-ing and maintaining major investments.
The vehicle manufacturers and suppliers have come back strong in Thailand, so the country’s Board of Investment (boi.go.th
) took us to the country so we could to see firsthand how the Thai automotive industry is rebuilding and growing. And this is what we saw.
On May 3, 2012, Ford Thailand Manufacturing (FTM) held a grand opening for its $450-million facility in Rayong in the Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate. It is set to begin production of the global Ford Focus—to be sold in Thailand with export to the Asia-Pacific markets—in the summer of 2012. FTM is designed for flexibility, enabling production of up to six different types of vehicles. Initial production capacity is 150,000 units per year.
The facility (which is so new you can still smell the paint) supports stamping, body assembly, paint, trim, and final assembly operations. FTM has an $800-million annual value of component purchases.
The Rayong plant is Ford’s second in Thailand (the first is the automaker’s joint venture facility AutoAlliance Thailand with Mazda, which produces the Ranger pickup and Fiesta subcompact), and one of eight new manufacturing facilities across the Asia Pacific and Africa region the company plans to open by 2015 as part of its global expansion plan. Ford plans to produce eight global platform vehicles in the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) region by mid-decade.
GM Thailand invested $200-million on a diesel engine plant which is adjacent to its Rayong assembly facility that produces the Aveo and Cruze cars and Captiva SUV and Colorado pickup.
The powertrain facility manufactures 2.5- and 2.8-liter Duramax turbo-diesel engines. The engines are used in the new-generation Colorado pickup which had its global launch in Thailand in October 2011. The facility has a compact manufacturing footprint to create a more efficient assembly line—improving ergonomics and operator safety. It has the capacity to manufacture approximately 120,000 engines per year.
The automaker was hit hardest in the flooding, but production at its $650-million Ayutthaya plant resumed in March 2012. It makes Brio, Jazz, City, Civic, Accord, and CR-V models for the Thai market and 30 other countries. It can produce 240,000 vehicles a year.
At 250,000 passenger cars and 450,000 pickups (with a strong agricultural base, the Thai market is roughly 50% small trucks, and Thailand is the second largest market for pickups in the world, after the U.S.), Toyota Motor Thailand—which is celebrating its 50th anniversary—is estimated to be the number-one vehicle producer in the country for 2012. Toyota produces cars—Vios, Yaris hatchback, Corolla, Camry—and light trucks—Hilux Vigo pickup and Fortuner SUV—in Thailand.
Eighty-one percent of the parts used in Toyota vehicles manufactured in Thailand are now made within the country and the company plans to raise the use of locally made parts to close to 100% in the next few years.