BRATISLAVA -- Slovakia's already surging car industry could nearly triple its output by the end of the decade and will remain the key driver of its economy, auto manufacturing officials said on Monday.
Slovakia has become one of Europe's most attractive locations for car industry investments in the past few years, following sweeping reforms by pro-western leaders that have won it invitations to join the EU and NATO by next year.
It produces 225,000 cars a year, and the head of the Slovak Car Industry Association, Jozef Uhrik, said output could rise almost threefold by 2010.
"Reaching (annual) production of 750,000 cars sometime in 2010 might not be unrealistic," Uhrik, who is also the chairman of the board at a Volkswagen production operation in Slovakia, told a news conference.
Volkswagen is currently the only major car maker assembling vehicles in Slovakia. Last year, its Slovak unit made 110 billion crowns ($2.8 billion) in sales and accounted for some 12 percent of the country's overall industrial sales.
But earlier this year, PSA Peugeot Citroen of France chose Slovakia as the site for a 700-million-euro plant, which will initially produce 300,000 cars per year from 2006.
The PSA plant will also further boost the production of car components in Slovakia, which was worth 53.3 billion crowns last year.
Slovakia's overall car industry sector expanded by 22.8 percent on the year in 2002, with sales totalling 185 billion crowns and accounting for 19.7 percent of the country's total industrial sales.
Vehicles and related production are crucial to the troublesome foreign trade balance of the Slovak economy, as the car industry's trade surplus reached 57 billion crowns in 2002, compared with an overall Slovak trade gap of 96.6 billion.