Yangon / AFP
Japanese auto giant Nissan will start assembling cars in Myanmar for the first time this year, the company said on Wednesday, as it expands its presence in one of Asia’s final economic frontiers.
Foreign companies have piled into the Southeast Asian nation since reforms began in 2011, eager to tap into a 51.5 million-strong pool of potential customers.
Nissan said production will start in a factory run with a Malaysian partner, Tan Chong Motor Group, before eventually moving to a new facility in Bago, 80 kilometres northeast of the commercial hub Yangon.
The Japanese company announced its plan to build the largest automobile manufacturing site in Myanmar three years ago.
Two hundred employees will receive training in Malaysia for a Myanmar assembly line that aims to turn out 10,000 units, according to a Nissan statement.
It was not immediately clear if all the vehicles would be destined for the domestic market or whether some were intended for export.
“Nissan is pleased to have the opportunity to be part of new motoring growth in Myanmar,” said company vice-president Toru Hasegawa.
Huge import taxes and international sanctions aimed at the previous regime meant vehicles were too expensive for most people, but recent changes have seen a sharp increase in demand for four wheels.
Evidence of the former pariah state’s exploding car market lies on its once-sleepy streets, which are now choked with cars.
Nissan began selling cars in Myanmar in 2013, two years after a stream of political and economic reforms saw Western sanctions lifted, opening the impoverished country up to trade and foreign investment following nearly five decades of military rule.
Investors are hoping that Myanmar’s economy keeps growing under a new government set to be formed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party next month.
The carmaker’s Myanmar expansion comes after the company reported weakening demand last week in Thailand and Indonesia — its two major Southeast Asian manufacturing hubs.
But the company’s profits still surged last year following strong North American sales and signs of a pick up in China.
Japan’s Suzuki already produces in Myanmar while US giant Ford Motor has opened a showroom in Yangon.