General Motors' decision to export the Zafira MPV to Japan from Thailand with a Subaru badge is a milestone for Thailand's auto industry.
GM's Rayong assembly plant will export about 10,000 Zafiras annually to Japan - the kingdom's first volume exports to that nation. The automaker decided to export the vehicles after internal quality audits show Rayong beating GM's other Zafira assembly plant in Bochum, Germany.
BMW's Asia chief Lueder Paysen - who spent nearly a decade as head of BMW Japan - is not thinking of shipping Thai-built cars to Japan. But he could if he wanted. 'Today there would be no quality issue,' he says. 'As recently as five or six years ago it would have been unthinkable, but today I really believe there is no problem.'
Although the Rayong plant gets high marks for quality, it is not producing the Zafira at full capacity. To make the plant more profitable, General Motors will launch production of the Alfa Romeo 156 in March. And in 2003, Rayong will start producing a range of Isuzu pickups primarily for export. At that point, Rayong will be producing seven brands: Alfa, Chevrolet, Holden, Isuzu, Opel, Subaru and Vauxhall. And that could be a record.