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Ford continues Asia advance

Published:Sunday | August 29, 2010 | 12:00 AM

MUMBAI, India (AP):

Ford Motor Co is furthering its push into Asia, announcing plans for eight new vehicle models in India and a US$350 million investment with partner Mazda Motor Corp in their pickup truck plant in Thailand.

The Dearborn, MI-based automaker says Asia will account for 70 per cent of the company's global growth in the next decade, most of it from China and India.

"We have massive expansion across the region," Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford Asia Pacific and Africa, said in an interview Thursday. "We believe the Indian market at the end of the decade will be the third largest auto market in the world, behind China and the US."

To meet growing demand, Ford said it will launch eight new models in India by the middle of the decade, adding to the US$500 million it has already invested in India. The company declined to say how much it plans to spend, but said "investments will be significant".

Hinrichs said the new vehicles will be in India's high-volume, compact car segment - where Ford has excelled with its 2010 Figo model - as well as more luxurious segments.

"We'll have different products to broaden our showroom appeal," he said.

Unlike China, where consumers buy all kinds of vehicles, Indians overwhelmingly prefer tiny, affordable cars.

Hinrichs said that would change as Indians get richer and the market matures.

Growth

India is at a sweet spot of growth - what Hinrichs calls the "take-off stage" - where average incomes in major cities are finally high enough to afford a vehicle. China is ahead, with consumers in secondary cities also able to buy cars.

"It's a broader base and a larger market," he said. "India is going to go through the same cycle."

Ford belatedly stormed India's fast-growing car market in March, with the launch of the Figo, its first made-for-India compact. In the first 25 weeks, Ford sold over 30,000 Figos, with year-over-year sales tripling in most months and quadrupling in July.

Ford, which began exporting the Figo to South Africa in May, announced plans Thursday to export the car to 50 new markets, including Mexico, North Africa and the Middle East. The first batch of 10,000 should leave India early next year, Hinrichs said.

Ford has no immediate plans to export from India to the US or Europe.

In July, Ford doubled production, to 200,000 units a year, at its factory in India's southern auto hub of Chennai, where it also has an engine plant. Ford is building one new factory in Thailand and two new factories in China, which should open in 2012, Hinrichs said.

On Thursday, Ford also said it and joint venture partner Mazda would pour another US$350 million into their pickup truck plant in Thailand to revamp production.

BRIEFS

  • Gas tank probe

WASHINGTON (AP):

US safety officials are investigating whether gas tanks on Jeep Grand Cherokees can cause fires in rear end crashes or rollovers.

The preliminary investigation, begun Monday by the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA ), is the first step in determining whether a recall of the popular Chrysler SUV is necessary. The investigation covers three million Grand Cherokees from model years 1993 to 2004.

Advocacy group Center for Auto Safety has asked NHSTA to review whether the gas tank's position below the rear bumper and behind the rear axle could cause fuel to spill if the SUV were struck from behind. In rollovers, a lack of proper shielding for the plastic tank could cause it to puncture, the group said. The neck of the fuel tank could also tear off.

  • Japan automakers report growth

TOKYO (AP):

Japanese automakers posted solid growth in global car production last month with Nissan Motor Co producing and selling a record number of vehicles for any July.

Nissan, which is allied with Renault SA of France, said it made 330,401 vehicles, up 17.9 per cent from a year earlier. The growth, however, is weaker than a 38.8 per cent jump in June.

Its worldwide sales rose 12.6 per cent to 350,470. The maker of the Altima sedan and Rogue crossover SUV credited healthy demand in the US, China and elsewhere in Asia.