Thais turn to EVs at motor show as petrol prices soar

By Jiraporn Kuhakan and Chayut Setboonsarng

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thousands attended the Bangkok International Motor Show this week where electric vehicles (EVs) were in the spotlight due to rising petrol prices and a government subsidy taking 15% off the price of some EV cars.

Thailand, along with most other countries in Southeast Asia, has been slow off the blocks to embrace EVs, but demand is starting to gain momentum with Chinese car makers in particular producing cheaper models and increasingly targeting the region.

"I can't handle paying for the price of gas anymore, so I'm here looking to buy an electric car," said Natnicha Srimuang, who purchased an EV at the motor show. Thai gasoline prices are around 40 baht ($1.20) per litre, up 50% from last year.

Some see a switch to EVs as a way to save money longer-term.

"I (want) to invest my money in a good electric car that fits my lifestyle," said Patricia Duangcham, who said she expects to save thousands of baht a month from the purchase.

The combination of energy price concerns and more affordable models will help spur EV adoption, said Michael Chong, general manager of Great Wall Motor Thailand.

This year's motor show was also the first since government subsidies for EV buyers were introduced.

While many global car makers displayed EVs, there were long queues to take a peek inside Great Wall Motor's competitively priced 'ORA Good Cat' model.

Domestic demand for EVs is a crucial part of a Thai government strategy to preserve its status as a major regional automaker. The government is targeting production of 725,000 EV units a year, or 30% of total vehicle output, by 2030.

Thailand is Asia's fourth-largest auto assembly and export hub for companies like Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co Ltd.

State-owned energy firm PTT Pcl has teamed up with Taiwan's Foxconn to produce EVs in Thailand by 2024.

China's Great Wall Motor also plans to produce EVs in Thailand in two years' time.

The demand for EVs has been picking up in Thailand, though from a low base. Last year, the number of registered fully electric cars doubled to about 4,000, though that still pales in comparison with total domestic car sales of 759,119 last year.

Despite the hype around EVs, some attending the motor show intend to stick to combustion engines due to concerns about the new technology.

"(The) EV car is only starting, and no one knows what kind of problems are going to happen," said Ponchai Lertlai, 59.

($1 = 33.35 baht)

(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Ed Davies and Karishma Singh)