Ford said today that light truck production would be increased considerably next year at the joint venture assembly plant operated with Mazda in Thailand, according to Reuters.

According to Reuters, Ford president and chief operating officer Nick Scheele said in a statement the joint venture, AutoAlliance Thailand (AAT), planned to raise annual truck output at its Rayong plant to 135,000 units per year from 80,000 units now.

Scheele, who met Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Wednesday said Ford would also consider making the joint venture its global production centre for compact pick-up trucks, Reuters added.

Such a statement is likely to provoke a reaction from the powerful United Auto Workers union in the United States, whose members currently build the compact Ranger, and a Mazda-badged derivative line, in US plants. The US vehicles are quite different from similarly named models built in Thailand.

“AutoAlliance Thailand will reach capacity of 135,000 units, including complete knockdown (CKD) packs, by next year and we are currently exploring growth and expansion plans for AAT,” Scheele said, according to the Reuters report.

According to Reuters, industry sources said Ford’s planned higher Thai output would require little additional financial investment but the five-year-old plant southeast of Bangkok would need to operate at least on two daily shifts from next year.

The plant initially involved an investment of about $US400 million when it was built, Reuters said.

Reuters noted that Ford announced in September it was making Bangkok its regional marketing and sales headquarters.

According to Reuters, Scheele said Ford exports trucks from Thailand to over 100 countries, contributing over $1 billion to the Thai economy in less than five years.