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The 35th Bangkok International Motor Show was as busy as ever, with visitor pouring in and new car sales being generated and with a further extended motorbike display that saw the trade booths pushed out into a new covered section of Impact’s long mezzanine deck. Despite all that, the mood was subdued as the new car market here continues to see sales plummet.

So good news was in pretty short supply. One significant piece of news, though, was that General Motors, represented here through its global Chevrolet brand, is to join the next phase of the Eco Car programme. In fact, by the 31 March deadline to submit applications to the government, the contenders signing up had hit double figures and that includes all five carmarkers that took part in the first phase of the Eco Car programme.

This will be the first time, though, that Western carmakers have joined the Eco Car programme. The first Eco Car wave was only taken up by the Japanese brands that utterly dominate the market here – so far. But after all, GM is the biggest carmaker in the world so it's logical that it piles into this popular programme.

The net result for GM Thailand is that it's a resounding confirmation that its here to stay and that the ‘head office’ in Detroit sees its Thai operations as core to its future in the region. GM’s been here a long time and manufactured locally, but the models from its Rayong plant have always been global models that are imposed around the world in a one-size-fits-all manner with just a few tweaks for the local market.

Joining Eco Car will boost the status of its Thai operation and give it greater importance, significant     too as the clock ticks down to ASEAN integration. However, while there will be a key local lead tothe project, GM will be unlikely to resist its usual cost-saving mantras and most likely recycle a global model to fit, much as Toyota and Suzuki did with their contenders in Eco Car 1.

That joining Eco Car 2 is a big boost to the local operations was what Mr Marcos Purty, the recently-appointed managing director of GM Thailand, was keen to emphasise during a press conference that Chevrolet hosted on its stand immediately after the traditional and more frivolous  press day brand introduction, saying that GM was giving Thailand “sound backing” in applying for Eco Car 2. Brisk and businesslike, the mini press conference emphasised that GM is a serious player here now.

“The company has reaffirmed its belief in our long term future,” said Mr Purty. “[Eco Car] is an area we would like to be part of.”

No one here has escaped from the new car market’s slump and Mr Gustavo Colossi, Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Aftersales for Chevrolet Sales Thailand and GM Southeast Asia Operations, was keen to reaffirm that current strategy would be focussed around tweaking models further to better meet customer requirements.
“We have been adjusting our strategy as our competitors have been adjusting their strategies too,”  noted Mr Colossi. “We are focussing on some specific models and we are focussing on specific  trims which are the ones the customers are looking for.” 
To that end, the brand's main highlight at the show was the introduction of a revised version of its  Captiva crossover, for the 2014 Model Year, that adds dual zone climate control, keyless entry and  engine start and multi-function steering wheel. But it’s going to be tough going this year with the  market downturn showing no sign of ending. “The challenge will be to continue what have been  doing and grow and build upon it,” reckoned Mr Purty. 
GM certainly has a full range of vehicles in its portfolio after rolling out new models at a hectic  pace over the last two or three years that now give it a joined-up range to match the market-leading  and well-established Japanese brands. From the B-segment Sonic, in hatchback and sedan format, through to the Trailblazer full size SUV and its popular Colorado 1-ton pickup, the dots have been joined up. 
The latter model also got a boost at the show with the launch of a ‘Sport Edition’ on the extended  and double-cab Colorado versions. Sport trims are option packs that always add decent margins to a vehicle and something that has been so far missing from this utilitarian vehicles range. 
The Colorado is a popular choice with the big army of tuners here, thanks to an engine block that  can take serious horsepower without breaking. That means the American pickup is a favoured  choice amongst the leading drag racers and plenty of Colorados can be seen burning rubber north of  the city at ‘Klong 5’ on a Saturday night. The front end styling of the new Colorado is quite  imposing and the slab sides rakish, which has also lent itself to gaining favour with the bodykit  brigade. It’s a pickup that responds well to enhancement. 
The new Colorado Sport Edition comes on the 2WD 2.5-litre versions and includes daytime running  lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, side steps, front nudge bar, roll hoop and decals on the outside while  inside it is spec’d up with an infotainment system that has a large LED screen. Expect the 'Sport Edition’ presented at the Motor Show, which is limited to just 500 units, to sell out very quickly but  then also expect this option to be integrated into the range. 
Now a Sport trim pack is sorely needed on the Trailblazer. This option was killed off pre-launch to  save costs but it would give the chunky SUV a competitor for Toyota's ‘TRD Sportivo’ version of  its segment leading Fortuner. 
Finally, Eco Car can be seen as a step that will also help GM in its desire to grow Thailand’s  operations further as an export base was the word from senior management. “One of our goals is to  continue to be an export hub here,” said Mr Purty. “We have two great facilities [so] now we can  improve and grow our capacity, not over-producing over demand but focussing on the two facilities  we have to ideally become more of an export market than we are today.” He added that, “[Thailand is a] core ASEAN region for Chevrolet.”