General Motors plans to sell cars using natural gas in Thailand this year, taking advantage of the government's promotion of the fuel for vehicles, according to Bloomberg News.

The report said GM will adapt [Opel-designed] Chevrolet Zafira minivans and Optra sedans it builds at a plant in Rayong, southeast of Bangkok.

The news agency said Thailand wants to increase usage of natural gas in cars, trucks and other vehicles to reduce imports of crude oil, at least 60% of which was consumed by vehicles, to cut foreign currency payments. The Southeast Asian country has at least 12.7 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves.

The adapted cars will be able to use both petrol and natural gas, the report added, noting that PTT Pcl, the state-controlled oil company, plans to open at least 120 natural gas stations for cars, mostly in Bangkok, within the next five years, increasing the number from 8.

The number of vehicles using natural gas is expected to rise to 44,500 by 2008 from 1,300, PTT President Viset Choopiban told a press conference, according to Bloomberg News.

The news agency said PTT sells natural gas for vehicles at about half the price of petrol to attract more car owners to shift to the fuel and the increased use of natural gas in vehicles is expected to reduce petrol and diesel consumption by 526 million litres a year in 2006, saving about 2.7 billion baht ($US64 million).

PTT is also in talks with Toyota, Thailand's biggest car maker, Honda and Mitsubishi Motors to sell natural gas vehicles in Thailand, Prasert Bunsumpun, PTT's senior executive vice president for natural gas, told Bloomberg News.

In April, GM's UK arm Vauxhall claimed that sales of its liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)-fuelled vehicles were up 60% year on year, helped by their exemption from central London's £5-a-day congestion charge.

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