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Exclusive: Chinese Ford Focus not for Australia

In Focus: A Chinese-made Ford Focus spotted in Melbourne raised speculation that Ford Australia might follow the United States’ lead by importing a Chinese-built version in the next generation. Not so.

Ford Australia to keep Focus running, but Chinese-made imports ruled out

Ford logo12 Sep 2017

By RON HAMMERTON

FORD Australia has locked in import plans for the next Focus small car, but not from China.

Instead, Australian stocks will come from another plant, most likely Ford of Europe’s Saarlouis factory in Germany, after the all-new model goes into production in 2019.

GoAuto understands that Ford Australia will not follow Ford North America’s lead in sourcing its fourth-generation Focus from the Changan Ford joint-venture plant in Chonqing, in western China.

Production of mainstream Focus variants sold in Australia were switched from Europe to Thailand to cut costs in 2012, but rumours persist that the Focus is set to follow the Fiesta out of production at Ford’s Thai manufacturing base at Rayong over the next two years.

Ford has already confirmed plans to end Focus production at its Michigan plant from late next year before retooling the production lines there to produce the next-generation, Australian-developed Ranger pick-up from 2019 and related Bronco SUV from 2020.

This would leave just two factories producing Focus for world consumption, in China and Germany.

Ford has already formally announced that it will source most of its North American Focus line-up from China from 2019, with some variants – most likely the high-performance ST and RS – coming from Germany.

The company had originally planned to build the next Focus in Mexico, but had second thoughts after United States president Donald Trump threatened to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and slap a 25 per cent tariff on imports from Mexico.

Instead, Ford decided to import the cars from China, saving $US1 billion ($A1.25b) in factory development costs in the process.

It will be the first time Ford has imported a production car from China to the US, although arch-rival General Motors has already made that leap, importing the Shanghai-built Buick Envision SUV since 2016.

If Ford Australia reverts to German-made Focus cars for its mass-selling variants, it could simply tap into right-hand-drive production aimed at the United Kingdom.

While the long shipping route and higher labour costs in Germany could place cost pressures on the next Focus, European sourcing would bring the next model into line with major rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf, Holden Astra hatch and Peugeot 308, among others.

Speculation that Ford Australia might consider a Chinese-built Focus was raised when a current-model left-hand-drive Focus test car with Chinese “Changan” badges was spotted by GoAuto near Ford Asia-Pacific Product Development Centre’ s design and engineering base at Broadmeadows, in Melbourne’s north.

However, we can now conclude that the test car is involved in just one of many engineering projects being done by the Australian team for overseas Ford units in Asia.

Although Ford Australia’s Focus sales are small compared with many of its competitors – it has achieved 4121 sales to the end of August this year compared with segment leader Toyota Corolla’s 25,610 units – it could ill-afford to walk away from the small-car segment that is, despite some recent declines, still by far Australia’s largest, accounting for 18.5 per cent of all sales.

Continuing Focus would be especially crucial if, as speculation suggests, Ford discontinues the Fiesta in all but the top-end ST guise within the next year or so.

Ford Australia has yet to confirm the Fiesta demise here, but the new-generation Fiesta is already on sale in Europe and there is no so sign of the replacement going into Thai production.

GoAuto understands that the current Fiesta will simply be kept running in Australia until its production ends in Thailand.

At that point, Ford will be reliant on the Fiesta-based EcoSport small SUV from India – with a major facelift due late this year – to help cover the bottom end of the market.

A Ford Australia spokesman declined to comment on future sourcing plans for next generation models.

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