(Corrects interview location in the fourth paragraph.)
General Motors Co. (GM) plans to increase the number of dealerships in Indonesia and Thailand to tap rising incomes in the two Southeast Asian countries with a combined population the size of the U.S.
GM will boost the number of dealers in Thailand to 120 by the end of next year from 91 currently, and the total in Indonesia to 55 from 35, Martin Apfel, the U.S. automaker’s Southeast Asia head, said in an interview on Nov. 28. Among other countries in the region, Myanmar holds “great prospect and opportunity” as it opens up to foreign investment, he said.
GM is among foreign automakers seeking to expand in Southeast Asia as incomes rise with economic growth. U.S. President Barack Obama this month made visits to Myanmar and Cambodia and attended a summit of regional leaders as he seeks to expand trade ties to regain economic influence.
“It’s a region full of opportunity,” Apfel said at an auto show outside of Bangkok. “We’re very appreciative of the government’s attention to this region.”
Indonesia is the most populous country in Southeast Asia with 246 million people, according to the U.S. census bureau. Its economy will expand 6.3 percent to 6.7 percent next year, while Thailand, with 66.7 million people, will reach 4.6 percent, according to forecasts by their respective central banks.
Chevrolet sales in Thailand more than tripled in the first 10 months to 59,652 units, led by the Colorado pickup truck, according to the company.
GM will manufacture the seven-seat Chevrolet Spin at its Bekasi plant in Indonesia and supply the multipurpose vehicle to other countries in Southeast Asia including Thailand and the Philippines, the automaker has said.
“If I look at countries like Indonesia, it’s actually macroeconomic fundamentals times demographics, so if you look at that, that’s a huge opportunity,” Apfel said. “I would say the hub clearly, Thailand, Indonesia, that’s where our key focus is, but all the other countries, very interesting as well.”
In Laos, the Detroit-based automaker has sold 500 vehicles since July and will soon have a new distributor in Cambodia, Apfel said.
The automaker is studying the Myanmar market and doesn’t yet have “concrete plans” for the country, he said.
Obama’s visit to Myanmar earlier this month made him the first U.S. president to visit the former military-ruled country.
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