Ford and Mazda join hands to build second $5oom plant in Thailand

Ford Motor Co and Mazda Motor Corp said they will build a second, $500 million plant in Thailand to produce 100,000 cars a year to meet the region's growing demand for small cars.

The factory, to be constructed at the site of their existing pickup truck plant in the eastern province of Rayong, would produce the Mazda2/Demio subcompact car and an unnamed small Ford car based on the Mazda2's platform, starting in 2009, the companies said yesterday.

"We expect demand for compact cars to grow in the Southeast Asian region," Mazda President Hisakazu Imaki told a news conference in Hiroshima, monitored at the automaker's Tokyo office.

"The construction of the new plant is a major step towards raising our global sales to 1.6 million vehicles by 2010," he added. Mazda, owned one-third by Ford, sold 1.234 million vehicles in 2006.

The new factory would raise annual capacity of the partners' AutoAlliance Thailand (AAT) joint venture to 275,000 vehicles.

The two automakers had been expected to announce plans to boost production in Thailand since Mazda executives said in March they had entered discussions with the Thai government on the issue.

The latest announcement follows the start last month of Ford and Mazda's factory in Nanjing, China, held jointly with local partner Chongqing Changan Automobile Co. The 160,000 unit a year plant also builds the Mazda2 model.

Mazda and Ford would split the new investment in Thailand equally, they said.

The Mazda2 subcompact would be sold in Thailand and exported throughout Southeast Asia.

Ford said it had not decided yet on a specific model, but one executive said it is likely to be based on the Verve concept car unveiled last month at Frankfurt. The same car would also be manufactured in Nanjing.

Up to 80 per cent of the cars produced at the new plant would be exported, John Parker, Ford's executive vice president for the Asia-Pacific region, said. ( Gulf )

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