This article is part of a special project on Thailand's emergence as a major vehicle exporter. The report appears in Monday's edition of Automotive News, marking the first Thai-built car to be sold in the United States.
That car, the Mitsubishi Mirage subcompact, isn't likely to be a big seller in the United States. But it may be followed by other Thai imports as automakers boost manufacturing capacity there -- and as the Thai government seeks to emulate Japan's success in years past as an auto exporter.
Asia Editor Hans Greimel's report shows how plants initially meant to supply the growing Southeast Asia region are likely to send more cars to U.S. showrooms.
LAEM CHABANG, Thailand -- Every day, Captain Sharif Ahmed Zahedi peers from the bridge of the massive 12-deck, 57,455-ton Cassiopeia Leader and counts his blessings he's shipping cars.
In his previous incarnation, the 28-year sea veteran was catapulted into the vortex of a Somali pirate standoff straight from Captain Phillips, the new Tom Hanks action thriller.
In Zahedi's case, as in the movie, the crew of a cargo vessel from his shipping company was taken hostage by Somali buccaneers. It was Zahedi's job to get on the phone with the pirates each and every day to negotiate a ransom and release.
It took three months and 10 days, the crew sequestered in the cramped bridge the entire time with a bucket for a latrine, Zahedi said. The price of freedom: $4 million in cash.
The shipping company had to pay a Hong Kong middleman $265,000 just to make the payment, Zahedi recalls. The go-between wrapped the booty in plastic and plunked it from an airplane somewhere into the Indian Ocean at a pirate-specified coordinate.
"It took them a full day just to count it all," Zahedi said.