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The long-awaited dream of an eco-car will become a reality next year. The possibility has given hope to many middle-income earners that they may this time be able to afford a low-priced eco-friendly car.

Some carmakers, however, seem to start from scratch by trying to explain that the word "eco" does not come from "economy" but is short for "ecology".

What that means is this type of car will have less CO2 emission, stipulated at no more than 120 grammes per kilometre. Moreover, fuel consumption will not exceed 5 litres per 100km.

To achieve that level of "greenness", the car engine must be smaller than those popular in the Thai market, meaning that it would not exceed 1,300cc for petrol and 1,400cc for diesel.

Automobile firms have invested at least 5 billion baht in the eco-car project in Thailand. If they are able to manufacture 100,000 units of the above criteria by the fifth year, they will get tax and tariff incentives from the Board of Investment. Six firms have been approved for the project, but currently only Nissan has announced that it will move ahead according to plan, rolling out its first eco-car on to the Thai market in March next year.

The government wants to see eco-cars available at prices starting below 400,000 baht, lower than the current offers on the market, but carmakers insist that the price would not be that low because the cost of high technology and research and development required to produce the cleaner car is very expensive.

It's true that a little bit of help from everyone to save the environment is essential for the overall public amidst rising concern about global warming. The eco-car should be one way that an individual - a member of the middle-class, to be specific - in Thailand can make their contribution. The problem is that consumers in the current sluggish economy may see only the "eco" as in the economy side of things, not ecology, as their first priority when considering buying a new car. If the price is not attractive enough, consumers may opt for a cheaper vehicle that provides them with mobility despite being much less green. Is it possible for both the government and the private sector to cooperate in adjusting an "economy" price into the upcoming "ecology" car?

With the launch of the eco-car project, I hope that my dream of seeing many models of small-engine cars available in the market will come true. I always envy people in some European countries or Japan where people can have a variety of choice when it comes to small cars from different brands.

Here in Thailand, the lowest possible engine that consumers can find is 1,500cc. Smaller cars have faced many episodes of unsuccessful introduction. The 1,300cc Ford Aspire hit the market over a decade ago but its sale lasted only a few years. Toyota launched its Indonesia-made 1,300cc Avanza about five years ago but the small-engine vehicle could not survive in the Thai market so the company had to replace it with the 1,500cc Avanza. An earlier model with the smallest-engine, the 900cc Daihatsu Mira, faced the same fate. I don't know if the disappearance of small-engine cars in Thailand was the result of insincerity on the manufacturers' or dealers' part to maintain continuous sales and service, or a genuine lack of consumer interest in low-engine models. There is an observation in Thailand that many times people are judged by the type of vehicle they drive. Those going about in fancy European brands may get better recognition than those who drive about in general Asian brands. The same person gets a different treatment from others only because that person changes his/her car. A painful reality!

I hope that the government-backed eco-car project will be a success when the launch time arrives. I hope that more and more people will change their perception towards the image of the vehicle, seeing it as a means of transport and not a reflection of the driver's status, so people driving small cars can rest assured that they will still receive equal treatment in society. Let's drive a small car and help save our planet.

source: bangkokpost

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