GM, Carmakers Expand in Thailand as Unrest Fails to Dent Growth

General Motors Co. boosted vehicle sales in Thailand 62 percent in April as political unrest failed to dent rising demand fueled by the nation’s growing economy.

The carmaker sold 1,879 vehicles in Thailand last month, compared with 1,162 a year earlier, Sasinan Allmand, a spokeswoman for the Detroit-based company, said today. GM will lift output at its Thai factory to 76,000 vehicles and go ahead with plans to invest $467 million to upgrade facilities and build a new diesel-engine plant, she said.

GM, Toyota Motor Corp. and Isuzu Motors Ltd. all raised sales in Thailand in the first four months of this year, while the nation’s auto production doubled in March to a record as the global economic recovery boosted domestic and overseas demand. The Thai economy is forecast to grow this year even as clashes between the government and protesters may slow the pace, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said today.

“Demand is very strong in Thailand right now,” said John Bonnell, the Bangkok-based director of Asia-Pacific forecasting for J.D. Power & Associates. “The economy is growing well, and despite the political commotion, things are making progress.”

Thailand’s auto output in March climbed 129 percent from a year earlier to 150,119 vehicles, the Automotive Industry Club, a trade group, said last month.

GM’s Thai sales through April rose 42 percent from a year earlier to 5,614 vehicles, based on data compiled by Bloomberg. Toyota, the biggest seller of vehicles in the Southeast Asian nation, raised deliveries 43 percent to about 92,000, the Toyota City, Japan-based company said today. Tokyo-based Isuzu’s sales jumped 44 percent to 46,071.

Bangkok Protests

Anti-government protesters have occupied part of Bangkok’s commercial district for more than a month, causing department stores to close and forcing companies to move workers to temporary offices. A Thai general backing the protesters was shot in the head yesterday as security forces moved to seal off an area where 6,000 demonstrators are based.

“GM is monitoring the political situation in Thailand, but we remain optimistic,” said Ray Young, GM’s Shanghai-based Vice President of International Operations. “Our business and expansion plans will continue in Thailand without delays.” The nation “will remain the leading automotive market in the ASEAN region,” he added.

Southeast Asia’s largest economy after Indonesia may grow as much as 5.8 percent this year as the global rebound boosts overseas orders, Thailand’s central bank estimates.

Prolonged unrest may reduce growth by as much as 2 percentage points, Finance Minister Korn said in a Bloomberg Television interview today, reiterating a previous estimate.

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