BANGKOK, Thailand -- China's imported electric vehicles (EVs) are heavily denting U.S. and Japanese car sales in Thailand, so Chinese manufacturers are investing more than a billion dollars to assemble their EVs near Bangkok to expand domestic sales and international exports.

Thailand prides itself as "The Detroit of Asia".

Toyota, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Honda, Ford and other manufacturers dominate a swelling domestic market for traditional internal combustion cars fueled by gasoline, diesel, or LPG.

Thailand is Southeast Asia's biggest exporter of those vehicles, rolling out 2.5 million annually.

Those numbers are expected to grow after China recently began exporting its EVs into Thailand's domestic market, while constructing facilities in Thailand to assemble Chinese EVs for additional sales here and abroad.

If the U.S., Europe and elsewhere enforce strict quotas limiting imports of "Made in China" vehicles, future Chinese cars "Made in Thailand" could challenge that.

China's big EV advantage is its southeast coastal port Shenzhen, from where Chinese manufacturers can access complex precision sensors, computer chips, batteries, and other high-tech hardware and components to build EVs -- making China a coveted partner.

In the latest flash of investment cash, China's BYD which produces most of the world's EVs, and Great Wall Motor, reportedly agreed to spend $1.4 billion in new EV production and assembly facilities in Thailand.

BYD, or Build Your Dreams, intrigued visitors at the Bangkok International Motor Show in March by displaying a $24,000 Dolphin EV which reportedly runs 300 miles on a single battery charge, and a $44,000 Seal which cruises 360 miles.

China's Chery Automobile meanwhile is also constructing a factory in Thailand to produce vehicles for the domestic market and export.

Chery expects to begin churning out 50,000 EVs and hybrids in 2025, Thailand's Board of Investment (BOI) said on April 22.

Chery is China's third-biggest car maker and is owned by the government.

"EV sales in Thailand reached 76,314 units in 2023, 7.8 times the previous year," Tokyo-based Nikkei news reported in February.

"BYD ranked first, making up around 40% of EV sales. Chinese companies accounted for 80% or so of EV sales, while Japanese brands were at less than 1%," Nikkei reported, using statistics from Autolife Thailand.

BYD's most popular vehicle in Thailand is the Atto 3 SUV.

"Agile and fun, BYD Atto 3 provides an engaging driving experience," BYD boasts on its website.

"The vibrant and streamlined central console reflects a positive and energetic attitude towards life."

BYD says flooring the accelerator of an Atto 3 SUV takes you to 100 kms/h in 7.3 seconds.

"BYD sold 30,650 EVs in Thailand last year, followed by 12,777 sold by Neta -- a brand of Chinese electric vehicle maker Hozon Auto which is based in eastern China’s Zhejiang province," the Associated Press reported.

"They were trailed by Tesla, British brand MG, and Chinese car maker Great Wall Motor.

Most of those sales were imported EVs.

Much of the new investment to boost Thailand's EV sector is being funneled into constructing custom-built, high-tech facilities, and assembly line infrastructure.

"Neta has announced plans to begin assembling EVs in Thailand, and Great Wall Motor bought a former General Motors plant in Rayong, east of Bangkok, as a base for its expansion into Southeast Asia," AP said.

Neta hopes to produce 20,000 EVs a year.

In 2023, "BYD announced that it would build an EV plant in Rayong province in eastern Thailand, marking the first time the automaker agreed to build a passenger EV factory outside of China," Nikkei reported.

That same year, "China's Changan Automobile announced that it would invest ($270 million) in an EV plant in Thailand."

Thai government officials recently hosted Chinese investors at the high-tech Smart Park Industrial Estate, in the Map Ta Phut economic zone at Rayong port on the Gulf of Thailand.

"Svolt Energy Technology, a Chinese manufacturer of batteries and energy storage systems, is spending ($34.7 million) to build an EV battery factory in Thailand’s east to serve both Chinese and Japanese carmakers," China Global South's analysis site reported.

In December, Tesla executives toured an industrial state, escorted by Prime Minister and Finance Minister Srettha Thavisin.

Vehicles are often purchased in Thailand by an extended family which pools their savings and goes into debt to afford payments on a high-powered machine durable enough for monsoons, heat, and rural roads.

EVs are starting to gain fans in Thailand but some owners complained that electric charging stations are frustrating to find outside of Bangkok.

Southeast Asia is prone to floods -- EV's nemesis -- which may also dull enthusiasm among the 600 million people who live in this region.

EV motorcycles, three-wheel scooters, and public buses may prove more popular within cities where recharging, by swapping batteries, is easier and faster.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based American foreign correspondent reporting from Asia since 1978, and winner of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondents' Award. Excerpts from his two new nonfiction books, "Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York" and "Apocalyptic Tribes, Smugglers & Freaks" are available at