BANGKOK – Nissan launches its new-generation Teana in Thailand, hoping the fullsize sedan can play a major role in its ambitious local growth plans.

As only the second country to build the Teana, Thailand will form the production base for sales of the model in the ASEAN trade bloc. Nissan says exports will reach 30 countries, more than the outgoing model, once output is fully up to speed.

The Teana is a halo brand for Nissan’s expansion plans both here and across ASEAN. The automaker is kicking off local production in Vietnam and has announced plans to assemble cars in Myanmar in 2015. It also has just rolled out its new, low-cost Datsun brand in Indonesia.

Nissan is moving ahead with local assembly of "the best products for all the markets we are in," Toshiyuki Shiga, Nissan’s global chief operating officer, says during the Teana’s launch at Bangkok's Plaza Athenee Hotel.

"Thailand is one of Nissan's core global markets,” he says. “We will launch one new product every six months” in the country. “Nissan is expanding in every segment.”

The new Teana will have a tough job, Shiga concedes. “Of all the segments we are in, none are more competitive than the premium sedan.”

Nissan currently has a 20% share of the premium sector, but Nissan Thailand President Takayuki Kimura expects the new model to drive significant growth. "We hope to be No.2 in this segment at least," he says.

The Teana is being launched during a sales downturn, but Kimura is confident it will achieve sales of 10,000 units in its first year on the Thai market.

“Over the last six months (the) outlook has been fragile,” he says, noting purchasing power has declined since the end of the government’s first-time-buyer tax-rebate scheme but predicting it will return soon.

“It’s the best time to launch Teana right now.”

The Teana comes with significant equipment and safety-feature advances over the outgoing model, and the interior has been upgraded significantly.                            

The automaker isn’t offering a hybrid iteration, despite the popularity of Toyota’s Camry Hybrid and similar models in the prestige segment. "We are studying hybrids, but it’s too early to say if this will come to the Thai market. Even without hybrids we are confident," Shiga says.

The Teana’s sales mix favors the 2.0L version, which is expected to account for 70% of deliveries.

The recent sales slump in Thailand has affected all automakers. Nissan is responding by scaling back its full-year sales target of 120,000 units to about 100,000, but still expects to maintain its market share.

The automaker’s Thailand growth strategy includes grabbing a slice of the fast-growing demand for SUVs, driven in part by consumers trading up from traditional pickups.

Nissan is the biggest seller of SUVs in its native Japan and believes it is well-positioned to offer image-building products attractive to Thai consumers. Kimura says the automaker intends to drive up brand value by “extending the scope of the used-car experience to the same standard as Japan.”

Nissan is adding 20 new dealers in Thailand, one-quarter of them located in Bangkok.