Speaking at a press conference yesterday, TMT president Mitsuhiro Sonoda said construction of the plant had not been halted, but the timing of the operational start-up was being reviewed due to the slump in domestic and global markets.
According to Toyota's figures, the Thai auto market reached 615,270 sales last year, posing a 2.6-per cent decline from 2007 due to a 17.6-per cent drop in 1-tonne pickup sales. However, the passenger-car market grew by 33.2 per cent due to the increased popularity of fuel-efficient sub-compact models caused by the surge in fuel prices in the first half of the year.
Sonoda said it would take another one to two weeks before Toyota decides whether to cut production at its Thai plants due to falling demand.
However, it is expected that Toyota's production for export could be lowered due to falling demand in the global market.
Last year, Toyota was the top auto exporter from Thailand with a record 313,211 units worth Bt13.367 billion being shipped out, posting 32-per cent growth. The company also exported Bt44 billion worth of parts and components, up 29 per cent from 2007.
Sonoda added that it would be difficult to predict export figures for 2009 due to fluctuations in the global market. Toyota is monitoring the situation on a month-by-month basis, he said.
Whether workers will be laid off will primarily depend on the export market, he said.
Despite the market slump, Toyota still plans to launch scheduled models - including the Camry Hybrid, Yaris minor-change and the Corolla Altis with a new engine - this year, while the Hilux Vigo model line-up will get a petrol engine version. There will also be another model that is capable of running on compressed natural gas.
Toyota exports about 100,000 units to Asean markets and another 100,000 to the Middle East annually, while 50,000 vehicles go to Australia.
Sonoda said the Asean market had shown signs of a decline late last year. This month, demand from the Middle East has also started to slow down, a matter about which Toyota is highly concerned.
As for the domestic market, Sonoda said: "We foresee the domestic automobile market for 2009 at about 520,000 units, down 15 per cent from last year. This will comprise 205,000 passenger cars and 269,000 1-tonne pickups, of which 252,000 units are pure pickups. The forecast market for 2009 of 520,000 comes from following the trend established during the fourth quarter of last year, and we feel this trend may continue throughout 2009.
"We expect Toyota sales to total 221,000 units in 2009, a similar drop to the industry at 15.7 per cent. We expect to maintain our market leadership in both categories and achieve a 42.5-per cent share."
For the year 2008, the drop came from the 1-tonne pickup segment.
However, Sonoda also had something positive to say.
"We still foresee good market potential. We believe the economy of Thailand is fundamentally strong, although we will certainly feel the effects of the worldwide downturn in the months ahead. Fuel prices have appeared to stabilise at reasonably low levels, which should give added confidence to commercial-vehicle buyers. Moreover, we still see substantial market demand, as evidenced by the country's car ownership ratio," he said.
Sonoda said there is large potential for new customers in upcountry locations, as well as potential for new-vehicle replacement cars by Bangkok area customers.
He also urged the government for support in terms of economic stimulus measures in order to create consumer confidence and increase purchasing power, apart from policies that will help develop the automobile industry in terms of raising competitiveness.