Company rolls out compact SUV EcoSport from Maraimalainagar facility

Undeterred by faltering GDP (gross domestic product) growth and a falling rupee, Ford CEO Alan Mulally has asserted that more of its vehicles will soon be exported from India, firmly cementing the country as a hub for the car-maker’s export and compact SUV (sports utility vehicle) strategy.

Mr. Mulally was here on Monday to oversee the rollout of Ford’s new compact SUV, the Ford EcoSport, which is being produced at its manufacturing facility near here.

Ford EcoSport is based on the company’s B-platform. The car maker is hoping to produce two million vehicles annually on its B-platform by 2015.

Investment

The company has invested $142 million at its Maraimalainagar manufacturing facility to create an all-new production line that can produce up to 10 different variants of the EcoSport. The facility is now capable of producing six different types of car bodies on one line, including the Ford EcoSport. The Maraimalainagar facility is one of the five plants that will produce this model.

“India is so competitive…you will definitely see us export more vehicles from here. In our experience, the market here is a good indicator of what people all over the world want,’’ he said, pointing out that Ford’s compact car Figo was now being exported to 38 countries from the India facility. To a question, he said “We don’t worry over macro-economic factors when investing, as we are always thinking about the long-term,” he said, while addressing presspersons here.

A-PAC region

Ford expected Asia-Pacific to contribute 40 per cent of its global vehicle sales in the next four-to-five years, underscoring the region’s importance in the company’s overall strategy, Mr. Mulally said. “The A-PAC region is so important, mainly because it is growing much faster than the global average. We have made a tremendous commitment to production in the Asia-Pacific region, and intend to keep it. The fact that we are profitable here during an investment phase is great,” he said.

Fielding a range of questions, Mr. Mulally did not agree with the suggestion that the car-maker had lost its momentum in India by delaying its product launches. Six years ago India was not in Ford’s scheme of things, he admitted. But once Ford decided to serve every market in the world, investments were made in production facilities and models.

“Today, all the investments are in place. The product strategy is in place,” he added. “Nothing will get in the way of us having a full family of vehicles here in India. What you have to understand is that the market changes so quickly. We have the most complete line-up of SUVs, and what people like about them is their flexibility,” Mr. Mulally asserted.

“When a customer comes to us, he has a choice of petrol or diesel, standard or automatic and so on. Some of our production lines have the ability to roll off petrol, diesel and electric. Up to five different types — all off the same line,” he added. The flexibility that the mini-SUVs offer proved a “tremendous appeal’’ for customers, Mr. Mulally said.

Queried if the company would come out with a new base car strategy, Mr. Mulally said that at the moment they were not looking at any other brands.” “At the highest level, we are not looking at a sub-brand for this strategy. I think there is so much opportunity to round out the ‘B’ segment here in India. Getting everything off one platform is very important,” he said.

To a question on Ford’s decision to sell Jaguar Land Rover (which under the Tata Motors has turned profitable), he said that he was pleased that Tata group had bought it. “When I arrived in Ford, a decision was made to sell many marque brands. This was because 85 per cent of the sales were from Ford and Lincoln brands. We were clear that for the company’s strong future we needed to focus on the Ford brands. So, we began to look for good home for brands such as Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo. It was a decision that helped turnaround Ford,” he said.

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