Car Manufacturing, domestic Sales and Exports from Thailand
Updated May 2020
Car production in Thailand increased from below 500,000 units in 1998 to a record number of close to 2,5 million cars in both 2012 and 2013. (2,453,717 and 2,459,504 cars respectively). As seen from the graph below, the production increase has not followed a straight line, but has been succeptible to economic downturns. Later, from 2014 till 2018 production has been around 2 million cars a year, with a gradual increase to 2,167,694 in 2018. 2019 saw a modest decline to 2,013,710 vehicles (-7.1 %)
Historically, from 1996 to 1998, car production slumped by 75% from 531,523 to just 140,402. Remember, this was the 1997 Asian economic crisis, which started in Thailand. (data not shown anymore on graph below)
The 2008 world financial crisis and economic downturn resulted in a drop from 1,391,728 to 999,378 cars (-28%).
After a dismal 2009, the car industry in Thailand rebounded in 2010 with a vengeance. Total production, local sales, and exports of cars, all reached new highs. The heavily promoted Thai car industry was on the way to become one of the top 10 car producers in the world.
2011 looked like becoming a good follow-up year to the higher production in 2010. However, major flooding (with submersion of many car and carparts factories in central and lower Thailand) made for a dismal 4th quarter of 2011.
General Motors (diesel engine plant) and Ford (new car plant), as well as Mercedes-Benz Thailand (engine plant) all continued substantial investments in the country. The overall market is still dominated by Japanese brand cars. All Japanese manufacturers seem to have decided to concentrate on small, eco-friendly car production, to drive production.
2012 was a boom year for the Thai automotive industry. This was to great extent due to fiscal policies of the government, whereby first time car buyer could receive substantial discounts for their purchase. In 2012 Thailand was listed as the 10th most important car producer in the world!
2013 saw no substantial increase in production, which stayed however at a high level. Domestic sales declined a bit, while exports increased a little bit more (see graphics below).
2012 Domestic Sales (and Production) Peak
The government of Yingluck Shinawatra initiated a policy whereby first time car owners could get tax rebates of up to 100,000 baht. This scheme was available when buying small cars or (pick-up) trucks (engine sizes not over 1,500 cc, and car price under 1 million baht).
Tax rebates to first-time car buyers reached about 90 billion baht. Approximately 1.25 million cars and small trucks, have been sold, benefiting from the scheme. The money spent by the government (and the amount of cars sold) widely surpassed expectations.
Arguably the goverment money could have benefitted other projects (like more rapid implementation of public transport), and likely the scheme caused indebtedness for a lot of buyers, the tax rebates notwithstanding.
Toyota in that year sold 516,086 cars in Thailand, and exported another 405,892 cars from the country. This was a huge 78% increase over the numbers in 2011, when production also was hit by the end-year flooding of the central plains of Thailand.
2014 and 2015 saw significantly reduced production, more than 20% from its peak during 2012 and 2013. Arguably many buyers had taken advantage of the tax benefits earlier, and did not need to buy another car. As can be seen from the graph below, local car sales dropped massively during 2014 and 2015, from a peak of 1,436,144 cars in 2012 to 799,632 cars in 2015, a drop by 44,3 %. Car exports stayed steady, and now exceed domestic sales. In 2015 and 2016, 1,204,895 and 1,188,515 vehicles were produced for export.
Data for 2017 : Total Car Production of 1,988,823 cars. Vehicles exported : 1,139,696. Total domestic Sales : 871,650 cars.
Data for 2018 : Total Car Production of 2,167,694 cars. Vehicles exported : 1,140,969 cars. Total domestic Sales : 1,041,739 cars. Domestic Car Sales surpassed the one million mark for the first time since 2013.
Seeing the number of cars on the road, in Bangkok especially, one would always expect that more than 1 million cars are added each year.
As seen above, both domestic sales of cars (passenger cars included) and car exports increased substantially in 2012 and 2013, then dropped significantly. Exports are less affected.
Car manufacturing (and car parts manufacturing) is an important component of total Thai industry. The value of exports (cars and car parts) in 2019 was 27.27 billion U.S. Dollars. Car exports together with car part exports, are the most important (by value) export from Thailand. Value of exports of cars and car parts, is 5.4 % of total Thai GDP (at 505 billion U.S. Dollar in 2019).
Thailand has no car brand of its own. Many foreign companies are producing or assembling cars and car parts in the country. As of January 2020 the following are active in Thailand : (manufacturers of light vehicles including passenger cars and pickup cars).
Toyota (Toyota Motor Thailand Co. Ltd.)
Mitsubishi (Mitsubishi Motors Thailand)
Isuzu (Isuzu Motors Company Thailand Ltd.)
Honda (Honda Automobile Thailand Co. Ltd.)
Mazda, Ford (Auto Alliance Thailand Co. Ltd.; Ford Thailand Manufacturing (FTM) )
Nissan (Siam Nissan Co.)
Suzuki (Suzuki Motor Thailand Co. Ltd.)
BMW (BMW Thailand Co. Ltd.)
MG Cars (SAIC Motor-CP)
Mercedes-Benz (Mercedes-Benz Thailand Co. )
Actually, quite a few European car manufacturers have disappeared, except for some luxury brands. Japanese car manufacturers dominate the Thai car market.
** End 2019, it was announced that Chevrolet, one of the few U.S. car makers, was also stopping car manufacturing in Thailand.
[Source : Thailand Automotive Institute]
Local production of motorcycles had a recent peak in 2012 at 2,606,161 units.
Local sales of motorcycles are steady seem to be around 2,000,000 units since 2004. Sales are effected by the regular business cycle, but much less so than domestic car sales. However, it is clear that while local production is still high, that the industry seems to have peaked out.
Exports of motorcycles always stay below the peak year of 2007.
Motorcycles produced in 2016 : 1,820,358. Exports : 926,277. Domestic Sales : 1,721,148 (including imported vehicles).
Numbers for 2017 : 2,055,193 motorcycles produced. Exports : 849,081. Domestic Sales : 1,810,771.
Numbers for 2018 : 2,063,076 motorcycles produced. Exports : 886,275. Domestic Sales : 1,788,323
Numbers for 2019 : 1,948,480 motorcycles produced. Exports : 948,839. Domestic Sales : 1,718,587
Anyone visiting Bangkok will know that a lot of motorcycles are crowding the roads, they regularly seem to form 'wild bunches' at traffic lights. When the sign turns to 'green' it is a sight to behold. Motorcycle drivers and passengers form the majority of road accident victims. For their part, motorcycle drivers are a hazard for pedestrians : they race through traffic lights when red, and the last few years, they started driving on the sidewalks.Law enforcement is poor.
The motorcycle industry is a substantial one, though not really expanding further. One could argue that road accidents and casualties on the road, would decrease a lot, if motorcycles would not be there. Roughly speaking, about 80 % of deaths on the road, are motorcycle drivers and their passengers. There seems to be no controlling drivers' behaviour, and law enforcement is desperately poor. So as long as we see these numbers of motorcycle sales, we should likely not see much improvement (if any) in road casualties.