New Delhi: US auto giant Ford said Wednesday it will start exporting its top-selling Figo compact car from India to Mexico and over 50 other countries as it strives to make the South Asian nation an export hub.
Ford, like some other global carmakers, is aiming to make India a launchpad for small car exports, seeing the country’s low cost base as a chance to grow in a segment expected to account for 60% of global car sales within a decade.
The Figo “will be shipped to various international markets, including Mexico, Middle East, North Africa and Caribbean markets this year,” Ford India president Michael Boneham said in the national capital.
The first shipment of 1,500 Figos, which have 85% Indian content, will go to Mexico next week, Boneham said.
The second largest US automaker by sales said it was also on track to launch eight new car models in the fast-growing Indian market by 2015, with the premium Fiesta sedan to be introduced in 2011.
India is one of the world’s fastest-growing markets for automobiles worldwide thanks to the growing personal incomes of the country’s estimated 350 million-strong middle class.
On Wednesday, industry data showed local car sales hit a monthly record of 189,000 vehicles in February, up 23% from the same month a year earlier, boosted by the introduction of small cars such as the Figo and Toyota’s Etios.
The country has turned into a battleground for global manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen, which are seeking to offset sluggish sales at home.
Ford has said it expects 70% of its growth to come from the Asia-Pacific region and Africa in the next decade.
The Figo, built for the Indian market, has been one of the most successful models for Ford India -- it sold 25,000 vehicles in 100 days and 50,000 in just six months.
The US firm, which entered India in 1995 but was slower than some rivals in attacking the market, estimates it has a three percent market share.
Ford India’s assembly plant in the southern Indian city of Chennai has ramped up output in order to keep up with orders for the Figo, said Boneham.
The company’s Indian operation can now produce up to 200,000 units annually of the Figo and other vehicles, while its Chennai engine plant can produce 250,000 gasoline and diesel engines per year.
Ford aims to introduce a new car model in India every 12 to 15 months over the next five years.
The sub-compact category, which has a length of less than four metres (13 feet), will be Ford’s main focus.
The segment makes up around 70% of the two million cars sold annually in India, whose market is overwhelmingly dominated by Japanese-owned carmaker Maruti Suzuki.
“You have to be a small car player. If you are not in the small car segment, you are just a niche player,” Boneham said.