A recent internal study by General Motors Corp. on opportunities for foreign automakers in Asia ranks Thailand tops, followed by Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. "Thailand and Singapore were clear winners," says Thomas S. McDaniel, former president of GM's Asia-Pacific Operations.

Local government cooperation is best in Thailand, making it a prime candidate for investment, says Mr. McDaniel, now retired from GM.

Malaysia is a good location, hampered by a protected auto industry, and the Philippines and Indonesia lack infrastructure, he says. Vietnam -- where more than a dozen automakers are rushing in with ventures -- didn't even make the charts, Mr. McDaniel says.

While others look to Asia for future growth, Japanese and Korean automakers are heading for Brazil. Daihatsu Motor Co. Ltd. expects to have a new plant up and running in the state of Mina Gerais by the end of 1996. The facility will have capacity for 10,000 Cuore small cars per year.