China's automakers hustle for growth in Thailand

PETALING JAYA: For decades, the roads in Thailand have been dominated by Japanese carmakers, but times are changing.

At the recently held Bangkok International Motor Show, Chinese automotive brands made their presence felt by occupying large parts of the exhibition area, showing off their expansive fleet of vehicles – many of which have yet to be seen or even made their mark in South-East Asia.

The show, held at Impact Challenger in Bangkok, Thailand from March 27 to April 7, is said to have attracted more than 1.6 million visitors.

Chinese brands often known for their affordability, design and futuristic elements have also caught the eyes of Thais who are looking to own their first electric vehicle.

The catalyst for this is cost reduction for many within the "land of smiles" which has been well-accepted by the locals.


Under Thailand's current road tax structure, EVs are being taxed based on the type of vehicle (sedan, sports utility vehicle or motorcycle among others) and its weight.

As outlined by Thailand's Department of Land Transport (DLT) in March, EVs weighing under 1,800kg will incur an annual tax of 320 baht (RM41) instead of 1,600 baht (RM207).

For electric motorcycles, the cost has dropped from 50 baht (RM6.50) to just 10 baht (RM1.30).

This is unlike Malaysia's previous EV road tax structure which is based on kW output.

MG Cyberster.

For instance, owning a BYD Atto 3 Extended Range with a power output of 148kW would have cost owners as much as RM867.80 annually.

Meanwhile, the recently launched all-electric GWM Ora 07 Performance sedan with 300kW of power would have incurred an annual road tax of RM5,074.

Aside from this, there is also the convenience factor.

As of Sept, 2023, Thailand has 8,702 chargers located throughout the country – comprising 4,806 AC chargers and 3,896 DC fast chargers.

Subsequently, the Thai government intends to have up to 2,400 DC charging stations by 2025 and 12,000 by 2030.

These stations are operated by the Thai government and private agencies, including the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and Energy Absolute.


Malaysia is now playing catch-up with only 2020 charging stations to date intending to have 10,000 by 2025 to which Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz said the plan was still on schedule.

Due to such factors, Thai car buyers are quickly doing away with their hesitation and are quickly opening up to the notion of owning an EV as pointed out by 38-year-old Darika Phon when met during the recent 45th Bangkok International Motor Show.

"We have noticed an increase in enquiries about EVs, especially by those who have families," said the sales executive with a China-based brand.

She added that customers' acceptance seems to be driven by the vehicle's "premium feel" and was unconcerned if it hailed from China.

At present, seven China-based brands have been introduced in Thailand including Aion, BYD, Changan, MG, Neta, Xpeng and Zeekr with more expected.

In 2023, Thailand's top three EV sales performers were BYD with 30,467 new registrations while Neta (the most affordable EV in Thailand) at 12,777 and MG at 12,462 - placing Tesla in fourth with 8,206 registrations.


During the motor show, a total of 56,811 bookings were made of which 32.78% were made up of EVs with Chinese marques leading the pack - BYD with 5,345 bookings while MG and Changan had 3,518 and 3,073 bookings respectively.

In terms of cost to recharge, Phon said that it is cheaper to recharge an EV than refuel a petrol vehicle.

At the time of writing, RON95 petrol in Thailand costs 39.95 baht (RM5.19) per litre while recharging an EV can cost as low as 0.45 baht (6 sen) per kWh.

Additionally, she explained that charging stations are conveniently located, especially at petrol stations and shopping malls with at least three to five chargers available.

"The main reason for owning an EV in Thailand is to help lower household expenses and with the current government plans, it has helped many achieve this," said Darika.

Zeekr 007.

Speaking with 35-year-old Chalermchai Supaporn during the motor show, he indicated that executives often look for sedans while singles and non-executives typically look for something sporty when selecting an EV.

"There's plenty of variety for customers to choose from and with more EV brands coming into the country (Thailand), people need to do some studying before making a decision," said the sales representative of another Chinese brand.

Supaporn said that demand for EVs is noticeably increasing with many people reserving (booking) a unit after a test drive.

"They (customers) love the quietness and immediate (throttle) response but more importantly, it is the long-term affordability compared to ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles that truly makes them want one," said the two-year sales representative.

EV car owners in Malaysia are eagerly awaiting the Transport Ministry’s announcement regarding the latest road tax structure, stifling sales due to uncertainties.

Currently, road tax for EVs is free until Dec 31, 2025.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke recently said the new road tax rates for EVs would be cheaper compared with those for an ICE vehicle to spur the uptake of EVs in the country.
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