GM's William Botwick on Thailand: ''For GM to come in and take market share from the Japanese is a big story.''
GM sold 18,261 Chevrolet-badged vehicles in Thailand during the first seven months of 2005, more than 1.5 times the total for the year-ago period. But it still holds less than 5 percent of the market.
Japanese brands hold more than 90 percent of the Thai market, which totaled 626,026 vehicles in 2004, according to Automotive Resources Asia, a consulting firm in Bangkok.
GM Thailand also exports to other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, including Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.
William Botwick, president of General Motors Thailand and executive director of ASEAN operations, talked with Staff Reporter Alysha Webb about building a regional export base and taking market share from the Japanese.
Is Thailand a tough place to increase market share?
We launched the Chevrolet brand here in 2000. That is our core brand for the Asia-Pacific region. This is a market where we are coming in much more recently than the Japanese. This year we are close to 5 percent of the total vehicle market, of which the largest segment is pickups.
We started with Chevy Zafira, which is a small van based on European technology. It is now discontinued.
Then we started to build the Chevy Optra sedan, then the Colorado pickup. The pickup is a mix of technologies; it's a platform shared with Isuzu. In the U.S. it would be called a compact pickup. There is a Colorado pickup in the U.S., but the Thai version is different. The suspension, for example, is adapted to local market needs. You don't carry a ton of pineapples on your truck in the United States.
Are you building just for the Thai market or for export?
The Thailand plant was intended as a regional production center and a way to grow the Thai market. When the plant started up, the economies were still suffering from the (1998) economic crisis, so most of production was exported to Europe. Now we are moving to original vision. Exports were about 80 percent of our total production in 2004; this year they will be about 72 percent.
In 2004, we built about 92,000 units and sold 17,000-plus in Thailand. The rest were exported to other Southeast Asian countries as well as all over western Europe and to Australia.
This year, we will build 105,000 to 107,000 units. That is full out for us. The paint shop is the bottleneck. Next July, when the new paint shop is fully operational, the volume can go up considerably.
How is the supplier base in Thailand?
The Optra is 40 to 50 percent local content; the pickup is probably 85 percent. When I say local, I mean Southeast Asia.
The proof of the quality of the supplier base here is that we were able to export successfully to Europe and Japan. We use one line for export and domestic production.
Where does Thailand fit into GM's global planning?
I see this as a major production source for the kind of pickup that we build, which is mostly exported to developing markets and to Australia. We also build Isuzu-badged pickups for export to Europe.
We are quite flexible. We can build left-hand and right-hand drive; we can build four-wheel drive and two-wheel drive; we can build different sized engines and three cab styles.
Why should Automotive News readers care about GM Thailand?
Thailand proves GM is not an obsolete dinosaur.
Southeast Asia is like a domestic market to the Japanese. For GM to come in and take market share from the Japanese is a big story. How long did it take the Japanese to reach 5 percent market share in the U.S.?
You may e-mail Alysha Webb at [email protected]