Thailand's growing importance as a South-East Asia vehicle manufacturing hub was further boosted on Tuesday with the announcement by Suzuki Motor that it will start construction of a plant in Rayong to produce eco-friendly cars as part of a government drive to promote the production of such vehicles.

Suzuki said that it plans to invest JPY20bn (US$225m) building the plant that will have facilities for pressing, welding, painting, assembly and engine production. Work is scheduled to start next week.

Production of the 1.3-litre cars is scheduled to start in March 2012 with 10,000 units built by the end of December of that year.

Nissan has said it will start production of its new V-platform small car - known as the Micra in Europe and the March in Japan -  in Thailand in March next year; Toyota has announced plans to start petrol-electric hybrid production in the country while Ford and Mazda opened a US$537m auto plant, also in Rayong, in July this year to produce the Fiesta and Mazda 2 through their AutoAlliance Thailand venture. The facility, which has capacity to build 100,000 cars per year, joins a 175,000-unit-capacity pick-up truck plant already operated by AutoAlliance in Thailand.