* Japan automakers say almost no disruptions in Thai
* Appetite for investment into Thailand still strong-lobby
(Adds Toyota quote, information on plant operations, auto sales
By Yoko Kubota
TOKYO, May 27 Thailand's military coup is
unlikely to pose major risks for Japanese car makers, the head
of Japan's auto lobby said on Tuesday, as companies say they
have so far seen almost no impact on their operations in the
Fumihiko Ike, chairman of Honda Motor Co and the
head of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, also
said that even though auto sales have plunged over the last year
after a subsidy programme ended, appetite for investment into
Thailand, an export hub for Japanese automakers, remains strong.
"Thailand of course poses risks as a country, but if you ask
me whether they are major country risks, I personally do not
think that they will have a very big impact on business
activities," he told reporters.
The auto sector in Thailand, dominated by Japanese car
makers including Toyota Motor Corp, Honda and Nissan
Motor Co, has been hit by a weakened economy and months
of political unrest, topped by a coup last week when army chief
General Prayuth Chan-ocha took control of the government.
Ike said that Thailand's auto sales decline since May 2013
has largely been due to the fading effects of a government
subsidy programme for first car buyers, which ended in 2012,
rather than political unrest.
Auto sales in April dropped 33.2 percent on the year, data
from the Federation of Thai Industries showed.
Toyota, the best selling car maker in Thailand, posted a 31
percent sales drop in January-April. Honda has been hit harder,
with its January-March sales down 69 percent, and it has warned
it could miss its sales target.
Thailand accounted for 4.5 percent of Toyota's global sales
and 3.8 percent for Honda last financial year.
Toyota's Executive Vice President Nobuyori Kodaira also said
on Tuesday that the company is watching the situation in
Toyota cancelled its night shift on May 22 when the coup
took place but since then has been operating its plants as
usual. Nissan said there has been no disruption to production
and Honda is also running its factories as usual.
Despite the political crisis and the drop in domestic sales,
Thailand's role as an export hub is unlikely to change anytime
soon, said Honda's Ike.
While companies are increasingly investing in Indonesia and
India, Thailand still has an edge with its strong supplier
network built over decades and export-friendly policies, he
said, adding: "I think appetite for investment still remains
(Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim/Jeremy