Nissan: Thai Political Turmoil Temporary

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- Japan's second largest automaker said Friday it remains optimistic about Southeast Asia's auto market despite political turmoil in Thailand, one of the region's key car manufacturers.

Takao Katagiri, executive vice president at Nissan Motor Co., said the unrest in the Thai capital Bangkok is temporary and won't affect long term plans in Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia.

Anti-government protesters this week consolidated rallies they had been staging at several major intersections in Bangkok to one venue, saying they wanted to minimize the impact on city residents after six weeks of trying to paralyze the capital and oust the government.

Katagiri said Nissan will continue to invest in Thailand and the region, including the Philippines, where it established a new sales joint venture late last year with a 51 percent stake.

He said Nissan has an 8 percent share of Southeast Asia's auto market and hopes to expand its share to 15 percent by 2016.

He said the current turmoil in Thailand is "just a short term issue" in the backdrop of his company's long term plans.

"We are always making investments for a longer term basis," he said. "We have a strong belief in the growth so we will continue to invest into the ASEAN market, and also the Thailand market and of course the Philippine market."

ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which groups Thailand, Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam.

Katagiri and other Nissan officials were in Manila to launch two new sedans in the Philippines after forming a joint venture with two of its local partners in December.

Paul Newton, senior research director for IHS Automotive, a research consultancy, isn't optimistic about the future of the car industry in Thailand.

He said the prolonged political standoff plus tight loan conditions, a forecast drought and falling crop prices are expected to dampen car sales this year.

"In the longer term, the situation does not augur well for Thailand as it braces itself for more competition for foreign investment amid the planned creation of a regional economic bloc next year," he said.

IHS predicts car sales in Thailand to drop by 19 percent to around 1.08 million vehicles this year due to the unrest and the termination of a government subsidy for first-time car buyers.