India, a hub for car exports to developed markets, is seeing serious competition from Thailand as production constraints and quality issues force manufacturers to consider production of critical models in the Southeast Asian nation.
Ford India is looking at shifting production of Fiesta, and Japanese manufacturer Suzuki is planning to move production of its newly launched Celerio from India to Thailand for exporting to developed markets, according to sources.
Ford's India unit is unlikely to export company's new compact sports utility vehicle EcoSport to North American markets, whose production will be moved to unit to the US automaker's Thai plant by 2016, according to recent reports.
Experts said EcoSport and Fiesta will mainly be exported to North American markets while Celerio will be exported to Europe.
Mayuree Chaiyuthanaporn, senior analyst, IHS Automotive Asean, who tracks Thailand automotive market, said, "Manufacturers are looking at Thai plants mainly because of India production constraint coupled with the better quality production in Thailand. Reportedly, Ford EcoSport produced in Thailand provide better noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) levels. Meanwhile, export orders are likely to utilise Thailand's capacity to its maximum."
Thailand is a production base for pickups and small cars, with total capacity expected to reach three million units by 2019, highest in Southeast Asia. The production cost in Thailand can be reduced because of economies of scale. Completely built units (CBUs) export account for around 60% (2013) of total production output, according to IHS Automotive.
According to an industry expert with wide experience in working across India and ASEAN markets, "Manufacturing of pickups and small car segments get supported by the government in a big way. Thailand has better infrastructure and technology, while it also has some challenges in terms of political instability and natural calamities. However, quality of production is very competitive as compared with India."
The country also has the highest number of suppliers among Asean countries. The Thai Board Of Investment offers both fiscal and non-tax incentives for investments. Tax sops include exemption or reduction of import duties on machinery and raw materials, and corporate income tax exemptions and reductions.
Companies like Ford India and Suzuki have capacities in Thailand as well as in India. In fact, both automakers are also in the process of building additional capacities in Gujarat. Hence, production constraint is not an issue for factories in India, experts said. However, Thailand gives logistical and supply advantages as far as exports are concerned.
Maruti Suzuki did not respond to queries.
A Ford India spokesperson said, "We do not comment on speculations. However, it is important to clarify that our operations around the world do not 'compete' with one another. Under the global One Ford plan, our manufacturing strategy is determined by a number of variables like logistics, cost efficiencies, geographies, etc, and is implemented to deliver the success of a single global One Ford plan."
"Export strategy is fundamental to our growing operations in India and we are well on course to establish India as our export hub and a center of excellence for small cars and low displacement engines for both domestic and exports. As part of One Ford plan, Ford is investing significantly to deliver scale and flexibility to reciprocate the increasing demand from both domestic as well as export markets. With upcoming manufacturing facility at Sanand, Gujarat, Ford India will double its manufacturing capability and significantly increase export volumes to several global markets including mature markets."
Exports from India gained momentum with Ford Figo, and have today reached new heights with Ford EcoSport being exported to mature markets like Europe, it added.
V G Ramakrishnan, managing director, South Asia at Frost & Sullivan, said, "Exports form an important strategy for most manufacturers as it helps in keeping pricing competitive for them to sell vehicles in the Indian market. Hence, no company can really ignore exports from India."
Exports of passenger vehicles from India grew 6.09% last fiscal, as per data by Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.