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First look: Ford Oz’s home-grown Figo

True blue: The Ford Australia-developed Figo city car is set to go into production in India.

Ford Australia’s Figo city-car emerges in India and could eventually be sold here

Ford logo24 Sep 2009

By MARTON PETTENDY

THE Ford Motor Company has revealed a light-car to be produced and exported by Ford of India – and it was designed and engineered by Ford in Australia on what appears to be a hand-me-down plaform from the previous Fiesta.

Although at this stage the new Fiesta will remain Ford’s smallest model in Australia, the Figo – which is a colloquial Italian word for ‘cool’ – now represents another sub-B-segment model option for the Blue Oval locally, alongside the second-generation Ka.

There is no chance the Figo will enter production in Australia, but the pint-sized five-door hatchback could eventually be imported here from India as a Ford rival for Suzuki’s Alto – Australia’s first A-segment vehicle to be shipped here from India.

Other potential Asian mini-car imports include Hyundai’s Indian-built i20 and perhaps even the smaller i10, GM Daewoo’s new Spark via Holden, Toyota’s iQ and a host of tiny Chinese models in the pipeline from Great Wall, Chery, Geely and Lifan. Malaysia’s Proton will soon launch a new micro-sedan, the S16, with aggressive pricing.

27 center imageLeft: The Ford Figo. Bottom: Ford Motor Co president and CEO Alan Mulally and Michael Boneham, president and managing director, Ford India, unveil the Figo.

Perhaps more importantly, as Ford Australia is keen to point out, the Figo is rolling proof of the work done at Broadmeadows by Ford’s Asia Pacific & Africa product development team, led by Scott Strong.

The same team designed and engineered the current-generation Fiesta sedan for India and is also developing Ford’s all-new global light commercial platform, dubbed T6, from which the next-generation Ford Range and Mazda BT-50 utilities will emerge.

The value of the Figo project to the Ford Asia Pacific product division has not been disclosed but is expected to be substantial, quite apart from helping to further cement Australia’s involvement in FoMoCo president and CEO Alan Mulally’s ‘One Ford’ global engineering strategy.

Unveiled by Mr Mulally yesterday during a press event in Delhi, the Figo will be manufactured at Ford’s expanded, “integrated” manufacturing facility near Chennai, which is currently undergoing a $500 million transformation to become a regional centre of excellence for Ford small-car production.

Mr Mulally’s appearance at the Figo lunch underlines the importance of India in Ford’s future global product strategy, with the five-door to be aimed directly at the India’s volume-selling city-car segment, which accounts for more than 70 per cent of the populous nation’s domestic car market.

“The importance of Ford Figo extends beyond India’s borders,” says Ford. “Ford’s investment in its Chennai plant gears it for eco-friendly volume production and positions Ford India to become a major export producer.

“Ford Figo models will be produced at the plant for export to international markets. The plant is also being groomed to produce diesel and petrol engines for local vehicle production and export within Ford’s Asia Pacific and Africa region.”

Ford says it recent investment in the Chennai facility has doubled the plant’s production capacity to 200,000 vehicles annually and introduced “major advances in high-quality automation and innovative, eco-friendly production techniques”.

It says the Maraimalai Nagar factory was been benchmarked against other competitive facilities globally, as well as the current volume manufacturers in the Indian market, for quality and production efficiency.

“With more automation and high-tech new facilities, the new site reflects the latest Ford manufacturing processes globally and pioneers new technologies for Ford and India,” said Ford.

One of those processes is a new ‘Three-Wet High-Solids’ paint process, which covers vehicles with three wet coats – primer, base coat and clear coat – of high solids-content paint one after the other without oven curing between coats.

A first for India, the system is claimed to produce fewer carbon dioxide emissions and reduce volatile organic compounds emissions by about 20 per cent compared to current medium-solids solvent-borne paints, as well as result in a deep, high-gloss paint finish that is said to be more resistant to scratches and stone chips.

“Our exciting new Ford Figo shows how serious we are about India,” said Mr Mulally. “It reflects our commitment to compete with great products in all segments of this car market. We are confident the Ford Figo will be a product that Indian consumers really want and value.”

Yesterday’s Indian reveal comprised the first look at the all-new car’s Australian-designed exterior, but full details of the vehicle – including its Broadmeadows-designed interior – will not be divulged until closer to the model’s production launch in early 2010.

To keep the car affordable for the Indian market, the Figo seems to have been based on the previous generation Fiesta in Ford's time-honoured practice of recycling platforms (the Ford Festiva sold in Australia was a recycled Mazda 121 built by then ford affiliate Kia in South Korea).

The rear view of the Figo reveals its Fiesta heritage, with near identical C-pillars and light clusters to the European-sourced model that was replaced by the current model last year.

Featuring many aspects of Ford’s ‘kinetic’ global design theme as seen on the Fiesta, Focus, Mondeo and Falcon, the youthful Figo features stylised teardrop headlights, “comet tail” door undercuts, pronounced wheel-arch flares, a large side glass area with blacked-out B-pillar and third side window, a squared-off rear-end with vertical side tail-lights and minimal front and rear overhangs.

“We’re confident that the new Ford Figo will be extremely attractive to Indian car buyers,” said Michael Boneham, the president and managing director of Ford India, which became a wholly owned subsidiary of FMC in 1995.

“It’s going to be very competitive with the current market leaders and offer a tremendous value story for our consumers. We believe Ford Figo is a big game-changer for Ford that will help transform our brand into a volume player in India.”

The Figo will join four other models already produced by Ford of India: the Ikon, Fusion, Endeavour and Fiesta.

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