The Bangkok Post reports that major carmakers based in Thailand still enjoy bright prospects, with new vehicle sales next year expected to surpass the industry's pre-crisis high of 590,000, according to the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI).

Ninnart Chaithirapinyo, chairman of the FTI's Automobile Industry Club, said he also believed that total new vehicle sales this year were likely to exceed the already optimistic forecast of 500,000 to 520,000 units. Vehicle exports, meanwhile, could reach 220,000 units this year and climb to 300,000 next year.

Mr Ninnart told the Post that the optimistic target reflected solid demand that coincided with record low interest rates, the country's favourable economic climate, consumer's willingness to spend and the seven-year life cycle for new-car replacement. Sales promotions and incentives from automakers are other key factors driving sales above their targets.

``I'm confident that total new vehicle sales are likely to top 600,000 units for the first time in 2004, exceeding the industry's record high of almost 590,000 achieved in 1996,'' said Mr Ninnart, who is also the vice-chairman of Toyota Motor Thailand Co.

``Today, Thailand can be proudly labelled as the `Detroit of Asia' or `Munich of Asia','' he added.