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Ford to export Focus from China

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.

North America to get 2019 Ford Focus from China under manufacturing base shuffle

Ford logo21 Jun 2017

By RON HAMMERTON

FORD Motor Company has announced plans to source its next Focus small car for North America from China in 2019 as part of a shuffle of global manufacturing bases, with potentially far-reaching consequences for a number of markets, including Australia.

Ford had been planning to shift production of the American Focus from Detroit to Mexico, but in the wake of a well-publicised clash with United States president Donald Trump over that plan, followed by the recent resignation of Ford president Mark Fields, the Detroit-based company has turned to its Changan Ford Chinese joint venture to build most of the Focus variants for the US and Canada in a move estimated to save the company $US1 billion ($A1.32b).

It is the first time Ford has sourced a new model from China for western markets, although rival General Motors already ships the Buick Envision SUV and Cadillac CT6 plug-in hybrid from there to North America. Chinese-owned Volvo also sends Chinese-made cars to the US.

The question is: will the existing Chinese Ford Focus factory in Chongqing, in western China, also produce Focus for Australia next time around? Ford Australia, which sources the bulk of its current Focus stock from Thailand, has declined to say where the new-generation car will come from.

Ford Australia brand communications manager Jasmine Mobarek told GoAuto that the announcement about Chinese Focus exports applied exclusively to cars for North America and that the company had no announcements to make about Focus for Australia at this time.

As GoAuto reported exclusively this week, a Chinese-badged Focus hatchback evaluation car was photographed by one of our journalists near the Australian headquarters of Ford Asia Pacific Vehicle Development at Broadmeadows, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

It is unclear if that vehicle is in any way connected to the decision to start exporting Chinese-built Focus cars to the west or, as we speculated at the time, if it is an engineering mule for a current Chinese-model upgrade by Ford Asia-Pacific engineers ahead of the all-new model in two years’ time.

In light of the latest announcement out of Detroit, it is possible the car is here for assessment by Ford Australia as it comes to grips with the possibility of a Chinese-built alternative from 2019.

Centralising Focus production for South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand in China could have the benefit of freeing up production space at Ford’s Rayong plant in Thailand which is committed to supplying the Australian-developed Ford Ranger to the giant Chinese market from 2018.

Such a move would be similar to the North America strategy under which Focus production is being off-loaded to China to make way at the Michigan Assembly Plant for the North American Ranger in 2018 and related Bronco SUV from 2020.

Rumours are circulating that the Fiesta light car will also go out of production at the Thai plant after the current generation which has already been replaced in Europe, with Australia among the markets set to drop the model, at least in its mainstream forms, once that happens.

Again, this could point to a centralisation of global models in bigger, more cost-effective plants with improved economies of scale.

Ford has confirmed that, along with Fiesta, the next Focus will still be built in Europe, with some high-end variants made there for global markets, including North America, from about 2020.

Ford said the rearrangement of global Focus production allowed the company to deliver a world-class Focus to North American customers “in a way that made business sense – with no US employees out of a job”.

Ford global operations president Joe Hinrichs said the cost-effective Focus program would allow Ford to redeploy savings into areas of growth for the company, “especially sport utilities, commercial vehicles, performance vehicles as well as mobility, autonomous vehicles and electrified vehicles”.

Ford’s original plan was to shift Focus production to a new facility at San Luis Potosi, Mexico. However, when then presidential candidate Trump bucketed the move, threatening to slap a tariff on all cars built in Mexico and tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Ford canned the plan.

It then decided to shift Focus production to another Mexican plant, at Hermosillo, in a move that was said to save $US500 million ($A660m).

In the latest flip-flop, the switch to Chinese production is claimed to save a further $500 million, for total savings of $1 billion over the original San Luis Potisio plan.

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