Mitsubishi Motors Corp said on Wednesday it would pour an additional 21 billion baht ($US490 million) into its Thai operations to develop and produce its next-generation pickup truck, Reuters reported.

Reuters noted that Mitsubishi was the world’s first to begin selling Thai-built vehicles abroad, having exported cars and trucks under the Mitsubishi and Chrysler brands from the country since 1988.

“As a result, early this year, we will be the first automaker to reach cumulative exports of 500,000 units,” Mitsubishi Motors president Rolf Eckrodt said in a statement prepared for a news conference in Bangkok and released in Tokyo, Reuters reported.

According to Reuters, citing a Mitsubishi spokesman in Tokyo, with the new investment, capacity at its local plant, which builds the Strada pickup for export to some 140 countries, would expand by 1.5 times in the next few years from an annual 136,000 units now.

Reuters noted that Mitsubishi Motors has already invested around 20 billion baht in Thailand, which is the world’s second-biggest market for pickup trucks after the United States and has become a regional manufacturing hub for several global brands including Toyota, Isuzu, Ford and General Motors.

Reuters said that, by 2006, about 750,000 pickup trucks are expected to be built in Thailand, compared with about half a million now. An estimated 1.2 million pickup trucks are made globally each year.