General Motors is investing $445 million to build an engine plant and upgrade an existing vehicle assembly plant here, company Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner announced today.

The new 14,492-square-meter (156,000-square-foot) facility will be GM’s first diesel engine plant in Southeast Asia and will provide four-cylinder diesel engines for use by Chevrolet in Thailand and other global markets and brands. Construction began today with the ceremonial pouring of the facility’s first cement pillar during an event attended by 400 guests, including U.S. Ambassador Eric G. John and government representatives from Thailand and other ASEAN nations.

The investment also includes engineering development work and retooling of the Rayong vehicle assembly plant for production of the next-generation Chevrolet Colorado small pickup truck, which is sold in Thailand and exported around the world.

The engine plant, which is scheduled to begin production in 2010, will initially employ 340 workers and have the capacity to manufacture more than 100,000 2.5-liter and 2.8-liter turbo-diesel engines annually. Among the first applications will be the next-generation Colorado. The state-of-the-art clean diesel engines were designed and developed by GM and VM Motori S.p.A., a designer and manufacturer of diesel engines based in Cento, Italy. GM purchased a 50-percent equity stake in VM Motori in 2007 to form a joint venture with Penske Corp oration .

“This plant is an example of how we are proactively pursuing two key aspects of GM’s global strategy,” Wagoner said. “The first is the accelerated application of alternative fuels and propulsion systems to reduce global dependency on fossil fuels. The second is growth in the emerging markets, including the ASEAN region, as a key factor in our continued global leadership.

“Diesel engines play a very important role in GM's global advanced propulsion strategy. We are leveraging expertise and resources within our company and through our technology partnerships to ensure we develop the world’s best engines. This investment will also support manufacturing and grow advanced propulsion technology capability in Thailand and across Asia Pacific.”

According to Steve Carlisle, Executive Director of GM ASEAN, and President and Managing Director of GM Thailand, “The new facility will be a state-of-the-art, highly flexible and people-focused production complex that incorporates GM's leading manufacturing strategies. We are bringing the best GM has to offer to ensure that our customers receive the cleanest and most efficient diesel engine technology available. Add to this our work with CNG, cellulosic ethanol, bio-diesel and regular gasoline, and it is clear that General Motors is quickly becoming the energy diversity vehicle manufacturer in Thailand.”

The Rayong diesel engine plant will be located adjacent to GM’s Rayong vehicle assembly plant, which opened in 2000 and employs more than 2,000 workers who produce the Colorado and four other Chevrolet vehicles: the Aveo, Optra, Estate and Captiva.

GM currently offers 22 diesel engine variants in 36 vehicle lines around the world. GM sells more than 1 million diesel engines annually, with products that offer a range of choices – from the 1.3-liter four-cylinder diesel engine sold in the Opel Agila and Corsa, up to the 6.6-liter V-8 Duramax diesel sold in full-size vans, heavy-duty pickups and medium-duty trucks in the U.S.