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Chinese-built Isuzu D-Max could eventually come to Oz

Flat chat: Isuzu’s D-Max production facilities in Thailand are churning through a backlog of 90,000 vehicles for the domestic market.

Stretched Thai plant, Chinese D-Max production plan could change Oz Isuzu source

Isuzu logo3 Dec 2012

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI in BANGKOK

ISUZU’S D-Max one-tonne ute could one day be sourced for Australia from China rather than Thailand, where production capacity is already stretched and more than half its output serves to satisfy domestic demand.

The Japanese company is casting its production net across Asia, with plans to supplement Thai D-Max ute and MU-7 SUV production – expected to reach a combined 330,000 units next year – with new facilities in China and India that would each assemble an extra 100,000 units annually from ‘knock-down’ kits.

Around half a million one-tonners are sold in Thailand each year, with 200,000 of those being D-Maxes – and Isuzu is currently working through a backlog of 90,000 Thai orders that has resulted in waiting lists ranging from six months to a year.

A second Thai D-Max production line started at Isuzu’s new Gateway City complex 150km east of Bangkok in October and is expected to pump out 90,000 vehicles next year in addition to the existing Samrong factory in the capital’s outer suburbs, which can produce up to 240,000 units annually.

Even with the new production line, increasing demand for D-Max in markets such as Europe means the Thai plant will remain under pressure to keep up.

 center imageAt least Isuzu Motors Company Thailand no longer has to produce the co-developed Colorado for General Motors, which has now established its own facility at Rayong.

In addition to the production of complete vehicles, Isuzu’s Thai facilities will next year send about 70,000 knock-down kits for overseas assembly in markets such as South Africa, the Philippines and Egypt.

The rate of Thai kit production will also have to dramatically increase when the Chinese and Indian factories come on-line.

Isuzu’s Chinese plant, which will operate as a 50:50 joint venture with Jingaling Motors Group that includes diesel engine production, will be based in Jiangxi province and be called Jiangxi Isuzu Motors.

Isuzu Motors International Operations managing director Shinsuke Minami told GoAuto the decision to start production in China arose from the impending end of a 15-year contract with the Chinese government to build 4.5-tonne N-Series trucks.

“The government asked us for the next project and we are now submitting our plan to the government,” said Mr Minami, who confirmed the current-model D-Max will be built in China, rather than the previous generation.

“First it will be for the Chinese market, but later we may export,” he said. “But exports will be under Chinese government control.” Isuzu Ute Australia deputy managing director Takeshi ‘Kasa’ Kasahara told GoAuto he did not think Australian D-Max supply would switch from Thailand to China in the short-term as Euro 4 and Euro 5 emissions-compliant engines will not be built there, but did not rule it out.

“Maybe in the future that will change, in five years or 10 years,” he said.

Isuzu’s Indian operation in the east-coast city of Chennai will build the old-shape D-Max, which will be sold to a more budget-conscious domestic customer.

According to The Economic Times, India’s ute market is growing at about 20 per cent annually but is currently dominated by local brands such as Tata and Mahindra.

Isuzu’s official announcement of the Indian venture says the company “plans product developments tailored for local needs, localisation of parts and the expansion of its sales channel”.

“Sale of LCVs shipped from Thailand in the form of finished vehicles and KD kits will begin before the end of 2012,” the company said.

“In future, a local manufacturing plant will be established with the target sales volume of 100,000 vehicles per year.” The Economic Times also reports that Isuzu plans to export up to 40 per cent of the targeted 100,000 annual units assembled in India.

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