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Boosted by strong electric vehicle sales, Chinese car makers will be in the spotlight at the Bangkok International Motor Show this week, underscoring the growing challenge to Japanese auto giants that have long dominated Thailand’s vehicle market.

Chinese automakers such as Geely’s Zeekr and Xpeng Motors are slated to unveil their latest EVs to Thai customers as they debut at the Bangkok motor show, a week-long expo that opens to public on Wednesday.

On Monday, at a media preview, the EV newcomers showcased their cars and technology at slick booths shoulder-to-shoulder with those from market leaders like Toyota Motor that are household names in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

Hangzhou-headquartered Zeekr will launch two EV models in Thailand in June and open 10 showrooms in the country this year, as part of a wider expansion in Southeast Asia, Vice President and Head of Emerging Market Mars Chen said.

“In the premium segment, there’s a lot of room for a new player like us,” he said.

Zeekr will compete with Chinese companies like BYD and Great Wall Motor that currently have the biggest share of Thailand’s EV market.

Guangzhou-based Xpeng, which is showcasing a flying drone car at its booth, plans to open five showrooms in Thailand this year to offer higher-end EVs, said Elsa Zhang, senior manager for its overseas business.

Others like Changan Automobile, a state-owned carmaker that will start producing EVs at a Thai facility in early 2025, are targeting the lower end of the market, with a two-door EV priced at around 500,000 baht ($13,728) that was launched on Monday.

In all, Chinese automakers have committed to invest more than $1.44 billion in production facilities in Southeast Asia’s largest auto manufacturing hub. Thailand is looking convert about 30 per cent of its annual vehicle production into EVs by 2030.

The expansion by Chinese EV makers in Thailand comes against the backdrop of intensifying competition at home where car makers are racing to cut prices.

In 2023, Thais bought 73,500 battery EVs, or about 9 per cent of domestic car sales, and that is expected to double by the end of 2024, according a Federation of Thai Industries forecast.

Local EV production capacity is expected to reach 100,000 cars by the end of 2024 as new facilities, mainly from Chinese car makers, come online, said FTI’s automotive industry spokesperson, Surapong Paisitpattanapong.

Last year, Thailand produced 164 battery EVs.

“EV sales are rising while ICE vehicles sales are falling,” Surapong said, referring to internal combustion engine vehicles and attributing the change to the cheaper EV models.

“With that ICE car price, you can get a top EV model from several brands. Higher gasoline prices are also helping EVs.”

But market leaders like Toyota, Isuzu Motors and Honda Motor Co are also working to maintain their grip.

Major Japanese auto manufacturers are set to invest 150 billion baht ($4.34 billion) in Thailand over five years.

Isuzu plans to use Thailand as a production base for an electric version of its D-MAX pickup truck, with an aim to start exports in 2025, a Thai government spokesperson said last week.

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