The uncertainty of the newly identified Covid-19 variant Omicron looms over today’s opening of the Thailand International Motor Expo as firms promote their new electric vehicle options.
Many of the manufacturers at the exhibition worry that the new variant may force countries to return to lockdowns or take other measures that will hurt business as the global economy and Thai auto industry begin to bounce back.
If Omicron proves to be a dangerous strain, it will affect the automotive industry and “deal a blow” to the local and global economy, said Takeshi Kasahara, the VP of sales at a local Isuzu distributor.
“That would deal a blow to the Thai and global economy. However, we are confident governments can cope with the new outbreak.”
The automotive industry accounts for about 10% of the Thai GDP and is a large source of employment. Several automakers including Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Isuzu, Subaru, and Suzuki manufacture vehicles domestically in Thailand for export to foreign markets.
The spokesman of the Federation of Thai Industries, Mr. Surapong Paisitpatanapong reported a 40.7% year-on-year increase from 2020 on the value of automotive exports in the first 10 months of 2021. He says he believes Thailand is on track to export 870,000 vehicles this year, but that could change with lockdowns and a global shortage of semiconductors.
Great Wall Motor (GWM), a Chinese SUV manufacturer, worries the new variant may impact their investments and future business strategy to use Thailand as a manufacturing and export hub for electric vehicles to the South African, Vietnamese, and Malaysian markets.
GWM plans to launch nine electric vehicle models in Thailand and is expected to generate 22 billion baht worth of investment and create around 3,500 jobs with their domestic operations, according to Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit.
The president of Great Wall Motor ASEAN and Thailand says the company might need to revise its strategy in Thailand if the Omicron outbreak escalates to the worst-case scenario.