Auto production down 17 percent in Venezuela

Auto production down 17 percent in VenezuelaCaracas, Jan 8 - Venezuela's auto sector produced 111,554 vehicles last year, a decline of 17.39 percent from 2008, the industry association said.

The fall in output was especially pronounced last month, when production was down 23.66 percent from November and 19.73 percent from the levels of December 2008, the association said Thursday.

Shortly before Christmas, President Hugo Chavez publicly called on Japanese auto giant Toyota either to resume production of four-wheel drive vehicles in Venezuela or shut down its operation in the nation.

"I hope they comply, but if they don't want to, then let them go; we will expropriate the installations - we will pay what they are worth, because we don't steal - and we will put them at the disposal of the Chinese manufacturers, who are wanting to come" to Venezuela, Chavez said in a speech Dec 23.

He ordered a "very strict inspection" of Toyota's operations in Venezuela to determine why they are not producing the all-terrain vehicles, which are used for public transportation in areas of the Andean nation that are inaccessible to two-wheel drive models.

Chavez went on to urge all of the US, European and Japanese automakers with assembly plants in Venezuela to begin turning out four-wheel-drive vehicles.

If not, he said, Caracas could turn to companies from China, Russia, Belarus and Iran.

The president said that such a change would benefit his country because the new entrants would go beyond simple assembly plants and lay the basis for eventual production of a vehicle made largely in Venezuela.

Part of this year's downturn in Venezuelan auto production can be attributed to protracted interruptions of operations at plants belonging to Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and General Motors de Venezuela. (IANS)