Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s Thailand operations are slated to play a significantly greater role as part of the company’s Southeast Asia strategy.

The strategy is key in helping the auto maker reach its target of 20 million new customers over the next two years, says Satoshi Toshida, president of Asian Honda Motor Co., Honda’s Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) headquarters, in published reports.

The region has been increasing in importance, with the capacity to manufacture cars, motorcycles, power products and components in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam increasing in recent years.

Honda has invested ¥12 billion ($100 million), as part of its plan to increase intra-ASEAN trade building on the opportunities created by the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement.

Across the region, Honda has new automobile plants under construction in Malaysia and Indonesia. Indonesia will export the Honda Stream multi-purpose vehicles to Thailand while the Honda Accord will be shipped from Thailand to Indonesia under the ASEAN Industrial Cooperation Scheme.

Underlying the importance of Thailand to Honda’s global operations, Toshida announced the Thai launch of the Honda Civic Hybrid, as well as goals to more than double motorcycle sales by 2004 from 2000 levels. Honda expects to sell 950,000 motorcycles in Thailand, the world’s fourth-largest motorcycle market at 1.2 million units.

This year is pacing to be the second consecutive year of record motorcycle sales for Honda in Thailand.

The auto maker also expects Thai automotive operations this year to break its 1996 record of 42,387 units, with an eye on reaching 50,000 units. The auto maker has a 30% market share in Thailand.

Honda is investing $25 million in a die-casting and machinery facility to produce engine blocks and cylinder heads at its plant in Ayutthaya to support growth plans.