Bridgestone Corporation on Tuesday said it would spend 17 billion yen ($US139.3 million) to build a third tyre plant in Thailand to meet growing demand for truck and bus tyres, particularly in Asia, Reuters reported.

According to Reuters, the move could also help Bridgestone secure the top spot in the global tyre market as it continues to recover from a recall scandal at its US Firestone unit.

Citing a company statement, Reuters said the new plant, in Chonburi, 60 km (40 miles) south of Bangkok, would produce and export tyres to the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and other Southeast Asian countries.

Production at the new plant, which would have capacity of 2,500 tyres a day, is expected to begin in the second half of 2004, Reuters added.

Reuters said Bridgestone is intent on on beating rivals Michelin and Goodyear, with which it is currently battling for the top spot in the global tyre market. The new plant would also offer further evidence that Bridgestone, battered for two years by the fallout from hundreds of accidents involving Firestone tyres and mostly Ford Explorers, had put the Firestone mess largely behind it, the news agency added.

According to Reuters, Japanese media reported that as part of Tuesday’s move Bridgestone was also considering boosting production at existing factories in the Rangsit and Nong Khae districts to develop Thailand into a strategic base in Asia.

The new plant would be Bridgestone’s 46th tyre plant worldwide, and its fourth to focus exclusively on radial tyres for trucks and buses, Reuters said.