Xinhua News Agency, citing the Nation newspaper, reports that Toyota plans to spend about 900 million baht ($US21.5 million) to develop Thailand as its regional technical hub, mainly to support its relocation of one-ton pickup truck manufacturing to the kingdom.

The report quoted a source of the Thailand Automotive Institute (TAI) as saying that Toyota needs to build a technical centre equipped with testing facilities to support product research and development in Thailand. Like other Japanese car makers, Toyota's basic design is now done in its home country.

Toyota aims to increase its total output in Thailand from 90, 000 to 200,000 units a year by 2004, half of which will be exported. The company also intends to achieve 100% usage of local parts.

It plans to boost the total production figure to 400,000 units by the end of the decade, half of the 800,000 units planned for its Association of Southeast Asian Nations operations. Another 400, 000 units would be produced in China.

The Thai technical centre, which is expected to be operating within three years once it is approved, would add to Toyota's technical facilities in Japan, Europe and the United States. Toyota also has design centres in Tokyo, Los Angeles and Milan.

An executive at Toyota Motor Thailand confirmed that the company was considering the establishment of the technical centre in Thailand and a final decision could be reached in two to three months, the report said.

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