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Asia looms large for Ford

Thai built: Ford Australia will begin sourcing the Focus from its new plant at Rayong in about six months.

Low-cost Thai, Indian factories set to supply more than half of Ford’s cars in Oz

Ford logo5 Dec 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

THE European-developed Ford Kuga compact SUV is likely to join Ford’s production migration to Asia, following in the footsteps of the Fiesta and – from mid-2012 – the Focus, opening the door for major cost savings for Ford Australia.

Up to five nameplates providing more than half of Ford Australia’s sales volume might eventually be shipped from the South East Asian automotive manufacturing powerhouse, up from the current two nameplates (Fiesta and Ranger) that provide about 30 per cent of Ford’s Australian volume at 2011 levels.

Sourcing of the current model Focus sedan and five-door hatchback for Australia is already set to be switched from Germany to an all-new Thai plant at Rayong in about six months.

And, because the Kuga compact SUV is built off the same C-segment platform, it almost certainly will end up running down the same line at some point in the next generation.

If Ford follows the same strategy with Kuga that it has with current Fiesta and Focus, Ford Australia will import the European-made version for a year or so, until Thai production is bedded down, before switching factories.

The current first-generation German-made Kuga is due to be introduced into Australian Ford showrooms in March – replacing the slow-selling Taiwanese-built Escape – with the following generation arriving Down Under in early 2013.

 center imageFrom top: Ford Fiesta, Ranger, Focus ST and Transit.

Bangkok news reports suggest that the new Kuga – to be known as Escape in North America – will go into production in Thailand around that time, but Ford Australia corporate communications director Sinead Phipps told GoAuto that initial production at least of that model would come from the Saarlouis plant in Germany when it arrives in Australia in 2013.

However, she did not rule out an eventual switch to Thai sourcing for Kuga, saying that, because Kuga and Focus were built off the same platform, there would be manufacturing synergies.

Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano told GoAuto that consumers would not notice any difference in production quality when Focus production was switched to Thailand in the second half of 2012.

This move will not only generate savings in manufacturing and shipping costs, but also eliminate the five per cent import duty, thanks to Australia’s free-trade agreement with Thailand.

This will be an important gain for Ford Australia as it battles to stay ahead of fast-charging importers such as Mazda – with whom it shares Thai factories – and Hyundai.

Mr Graziano confirmed that the high-performance flagship Focus, the ST, would land in Australia late in 2012, although production of that model is expected to remain in Germany.

He described the Focus ST as Ford’s first truly global performance car.

Powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre EcoBoost direct-injection four-cylinder engine – similar to the unit to be introduced in the Ford Falcon in March – the front-drive ST (Sport Technologies) hatchback will be offered exclusively with a six-speed manual gearbox, 18-inch alloy wheels and torque-taming torque vectoring control.

Also in the pipeline for Australia – although not yet officially announced – is a new Indian-made Fiesta-based entry-level compact crossover, reportedly called EcoSport, which is scheduled to be unveiled at the New Delhi motor show in January.

Another Asian-built vehicle almost certainly destined for Australia is the ladder-chassis SUV being developed from the T6 Ranger platform by Ford Australia for Thai production.

Thought to be called Endeavor, this SUV would bring Ford Australia’s showroom fleet of Thai-made Ford nameplates to five – Fiesta, Ranger, Focus, Kuga and Endeavor.

In the meantime, the current 4x4 dual-cab diesel Ford Ranger ute is set to be joined by a flock of other variants in 2012, including Single Cab, Super Cab, 4x2, 4x2 Hi-Rider and Wildtrak.

The engine line-up will be expanded to three, with a 2.5-litre petrol and 2.2-litre diesel joining the current 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel.

As well, Ford’s Transit van will gain a fuel-efficient 2.2-litre diesel engine across the range from next month, in two states of tune – 92kW/330Nm in front-wheel-drive models and 114kW/385Nm in rear-wheel drive models.

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