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Aussies help drive Ford’s Chinese explosion

New developments: Ford Asia Pacific and Africa president Joe Hinrichs launching the EcoSport at the 2012 Beijing AutoShow.

Australian-developed vehicle on 2015 countdown for China as Ford chases GM, VW

Ford logo1 May 2012

A VEHICLE under development at Ford Australia is believed to be among 15 new models on the launch pad for China, where the Blue Oval is set to double its production capacity within three years.

The Aussie-engineered car is expected to be sold under Ford badges when its goes on sale in the world’s biggest motor market about 2015, despite reports that Ford and its Chinese partner Changan Auto are considering a joint domestic brand to rival GM’s Baojun brand, which is shared with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and Wuling.

The Australian-inspired Ford vehicle will not be a repeat of the Figo that was wrought from the superseded Fiesta by Ford Australia for India and other developing markets, and which has been built in Chennai since 2010.

Ford has ruled out resurrecting cast-off platforms for future vehicles for developing markets, instead sticking with current architectures for such vehicles, albeit with some changes where appropriate to suit needs, price and taste.

Company sources also have dismissed Australian involvement in a proposed sub-Fiesta city car for China, saying the Australian contribution is a somewhat larger vehicle – and larger than Fiesta.

The Chinese-market vehicle is being prepared at Ford Australia’s Campbellfield design and engineering centre in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and You Yangs proving ground near Geelong, alongside a Ranger-based SUV destined for international markets.

It is unclear if the rugged ladder-chassis T-series SUV – a competitor for the Mitsubishi Challenger and Nissan Pathfinder, and Holden’s upcoming Colorado 7 – will make it to the Chinese market.

The SUV – possibly called Everest – is expected to be primarily produced alongside Ranger in Thailand for global markets, particularly Asia, the Middle East and central and South America.

However, Ford’s rapid expansion of production facilities in China, where it plans to double its volume from the current 600,000 units a year to 1.2 million by 2015, seems to make anything possible.

Ford has hitched its sales wagon to the SUV boom in China, announcing at the recent Beijing motor show that its sole SUV in China, the mid-sized Edge that shares its platform with the Mazda CX-9, will be joined by the new Fiesta-based EcoSport, the Focus-based Kuga and large American-made Explorer.

SUV sales soared more than 20 per cent in China last year, compared with 2.4 per cent for the overall market.

 center imageFrom top: The Ford Figo and Ford Start concept.

Ford is also banking on the new Focus for substantial growth. The latest generation small car is now pouring forth from a new plant at Ford’s main Chinese production base in the central Chinese city of Chongqing, where it shares facilities with Changan and Mazda.

The joint venture – Changan Ford Mazda Automobile – is headed by former Ford Australia president Marin Burela.

A third plant is already being planned for Chongqing, with another plant, costing $760 million and capable of producing 250,000 units year, announced last month for the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou to bring Ford production closer to the big and more affluent coastal populations centres.

Although Ford has not announced which vehicles will be built at the new plants, it has confirmed it will introduce 15 new models and 20 engines to China by 2015, starting with the Focus that hits showrooms within weeks.

A late starter in China, Ford is playing catch-up with market leaders General Motors and Volkswagen. GM and its Chinese partners sold 745,152 Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac vehicles in the first quarter of this year – more than Ford can build in China in a full year.

A new sub-Fiesta city car, perhaps a production version of the Ford Start Concept shown at the 2010 Beijing show, also appears to be on the agenda at Ford to take on the Chevrolet Spark in China.

A similar car is also reported to be destined for India, although it is unclear if the vehicle is one and the same.

Ford Asia Pacific and Africa president Joe Hinrichs has hinted at plans for the low-cost mini vehicle, telling reporters at this year’s Beijing show that Ford believed there was opportunity for sales at a price point below Fiesta in China.

He said the company had plans to offer value products in tier 3, 4 and 5 cities – the poorer regional centres away from the well-developed east coast centres such as Shanghai and Beijing.

However, the new mini car is unlikely to be based on the current second-generation Ford Ka, which is built in Poland by Fiat and based on the Fiat 500 platform – a premium package that is unlikely to hit Mr Hinrich’s budget price points.

Besides, since Ford did the deal with Fiat for the Ka, the Italian company has climbed firmly into bed with rival Chrysler Group, which would resist any continuation of the platform-sharing deal. Ford likely has something new in mind.

The Start Concept bubble car shown at the 2010 Beijing motor show was armed with Ford’s new three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engine that is now in production for Focus in Europe.

Despite Ford Australia’s central role in the development of the Figo light hatchback for India and a range of export markets, GoAuto understands that a future mini car for China is not on the current model-development agenda at Broadmeadows.

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