Thailand opens its motor show to public as restrictions relax - GulfToday

Thailand opens its motor show to public as restrictions relax


Models stand near an Audi car during the auto show in Bangkok. Reuters

Thailand opened its twice-postponed annual auto show to the public as the country’s first large-scale event since coronavirus restrictions eased, with nearly all attendees wearing masks and face shields. The show opened on July 15 and will close on July 26.

Thailand is a major regional car production hub and its previous motor shows booked over a million people in attendance.

Thermal scans were at the entrance to the 41st Bangkok International Motor Show and temperatures were measured as people visited booths, where waiting spots were prepared to ensure physical distancing. Guests were also required to check-in and out with their cellphones to allow for contact tracing.

“I don’t come to the event every year, but I think for the first day of the event amid a pandemic, people are in quite large numbers,” said Suriya Thanakorn, who was on the lookout for a new car.

Motor shows around the world have been forced to cancel or delay due to the pandemic.

But Thailand has pressed ahead having gone nearly seven weeks without local transmission of the virus, which has infected just over 3,000 people, most of which have recovered.

Chief organiser of the Bangkok Motor Show Prachin Eamlumnow said eyes will be on how Thailand handles one of the first big global shows since the pandemic started.

“No country can arrange an event on this scale, so the other event organizers will be watching,” he said. “We have succeeded in controlling COVID-19.”

There are 25 car brands including Nissan and BMW and 22 motorcycle manufacturers on show at booths with specific entry and exit points to prevent crowding.

Ramesh Narasimhan, president of Nissan Thailand, said the stringent measures should be maintained to ensure good attendance throughout the 12-day event.

“It’s really important for us to keep it for the entire show, but the first signs are very, very positive, so I’m pretty excited about that,” he said.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the remaking of Thailand’s automotive industry, the backbone of Southeast Asia’s auto sector, as factory shutdowns compound a shift toward electric vehicles. Thailand’s auto-related businesses, which employ 900,000, are reopening after months of coronavirus shutdowns, promising relief for many laid-off workers.

But there’s a catch: Thailand’s shift toward electric vehicles (EVs) could pummel the local auto industry because it is dominated by hundreds of parts makers, while EVs require just 10% to 20% as many of parts as internal-combustion vehicles.

With an estimated one-third of a million jobs at risk, Thai auto-parts makers are scrambling into industries like medical equipment, a trend likely to keep reshaping Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy after the pandemic passes.

“We are all worried; this is a sunset industry,” said Kasem Tiankanon, manager at Siam Filter Products.

The Bangkok-based company has avoided laying off any of its hundreds of workers by offsetting the drop in orders from automakers with an increase in replacement parts. The company is looking to branch out into making filters for industrial and medical use and is developing a new kind of protective mask.

“We cannot just stay in the auto business,” Kasem said. “If you don’t adjust, you’ll die.” Others moved to packaging and aviation. “It’s a pivot to industries that use the same processes because there is already expertise in machining,” said Sompol Tanadumrongsak, head of the Thai Auto-Parts Manufacturers Association. The coronavirus damage to car demand will crush Thailand’s output by almost half to 1.14 million vehicles this year, research firm IHS Markit forecasts.

Parts makers, which account for some 80% of the country’s auto-industry workers, have laid off 20,000, a number that could hit 100,000 by year end, said Manit Promkareekul, president of the Automobile Labour Congress of Thailand.

EV prospects are brighter.

Global sales will rise 6% this year to 2.3 million vehicles before exploding to 45 million by 2030, the International Energy Agency forecasts.

Even before the new coronavirus struck, Thailand’s parts makers were starting to shift gears as the global car industry moves toward EVs, spurred by the likes of Elon Musk’s Tesla.

The government in March targeted EVs at 30% of production, or 750,000 vehicles, by 2030, initially for domestic use in a bid to curb pollution.


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