China’s Hozon New Energy Automobile has begun operations at its new assembly plant in Thailand, two months ahead of schedule, as it expands into south-east Asia’s fastest-growing battery electric vehicle (BEV) market.

The Shanghai-based company, also known as Neta Auto, agreed in May to work with Thai vehicle assembler Bangchan General Assembly to build a plant near Bangkok with annual capacity for 20,000 BEVs with completion originally scheduled for the first quarter of 2024.

Hozon began selling its Neta V compact crossover BEV in Thailand last year with a price tag of THB549,000 (US$15,600), followed by other models including the Neta U and S this year. The company expects to sell 12,000 vehicles in Thailand in 2023.

The company is one of a growing number of Chinese automakers investing in production hubs in Thailand, BYD Auto, SAIC Motor and Great Wall Motors, targeting local sales and export to other Asia-Pacific countries.

Hozon said it produced its first Thai (and overseas) vehicle last week, a RHD Neta V-II compact BEV.

The company hailed the moment as an “important step in its global expansion strategy” with more models to be produced at the plant to meet growing demand in Thailand and other ASEAN nations.

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Last October, the Federation of Thai Industries increased its domestic BEV sales forecast to up to 70,000 units from an earlier forecast of 40,000 units due mainly to new model launches by the Chinese automakers.

In August Hozon said it would build Neta BEVs in Indonesia from the second quarter of 2024 with assembly contracted to PT Handal Indonesia Motor.