Even as we read about Malaysia trying to establish itself as a hub for energy efficient vehicles, our ASEAN neighbours are busy raking in further investment from carmakers. Toyota, the biggest carmaker in Thailand, has announced plans to invest 12 billion baht in a new factory at Gateway 2 in Chachoengsao, Bangkok Post reports.

The factory, an expansion of Toyota’s existing plant at Gateway, will be fully operational by the third quarter of 2013 and have an annual capacity of 300,000 units a year, said Kyoichi Tanada, president of Toyota Motor Thailand. The first model to roll out from the new facility will be a new eco car.

Market leader Toyota is late in the eco car game, and has seen Japanese rivals Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi enjoy strong sales with the March, Brio range and Mirage, respectively. Better late than never, they say.

Tanada also revealed that Toyota’s first Thai facility in Samrong, Samut Prakan recently kicked off assembly of the popular Hiace Commuter High-Roof van (yes, the standard tourist van, usually with funky cabins) after a capital investment of 1.5 billion baht. This means that Toyota Motor Thailand will no longer need to import the van from Malaysia.

The Samrong facility also makes Hilux pick-up trucks with a capacity of 240,000 units a year. Gateway in Chachoengsao is responsible for all passenger car models (230k capacity a year) while a third factory, in Chachoengsao’s Ban Pho district, does both the Hilux Vigo and Fortuner SUV with a capacity of 230,000 units a year.

Toyota Motor Thailand forecasts sales of 900,000 units this year – 500,000 for local consumption and 400,000 for export.