Ford unveils Indian-built Figo, foresees return to profitability

Ford Motor Co. (F) is on a roll. The lone U.S. car company not to have taken a government bailout, Ford said Wednesday it foresees a return to profitability within two years, as it unveiled an inexpensive compact car to be made in India. (Autoblog has a gallery of the new car here.)

The Figo, which apparently is Italian slang for "cool," will go on sale in India beginning early next year, Ford officials said during a press conference in Delhi. There are also plans to export the four-door hatchback to other nations in Asia. Though Ford didn't disclose retail prices, it is expected the Figo will sell for about $6,000 to $8,000.
At that price, the Figo will compete against other compact cars, including pricier versions of the Tata Nano, a tiny Indian-made vehicle from Tata Motors (TTM) that went on sale in July. "We're confident that the new Ford Figo will be extremely attractive to Indian car buyers," said Ford India President Michael Boneham.

The new car will be a game-changer, Boneham said. "It will give us muscle in the heart of the Indian market."

At the press event, Ford CEO Alan Mulally said he expected that by 2029, a third of sales worldwide will come from Asia, with the other two-thirds split evenly between the Americas, and Russia and Europe.

The plant where the Figo will be manufactured, in the southern city of Chennai, is part of a $500 million investment announced last year to increase production of vehicles and engines in India with an eye toward exporting those products to other Asian countries. Ford has been doing business in India since 1995. It has only about 2 percent of the Asian car market.

Ford executives are expected to make an announcement later this week about the automaker's plans for the China market, which may include the opening of a third assembly plant. Ford now builds some 450,000 cars a year in the Communist nation.

Ford expects these efforts will pay off in increased sales and more revenue. Mulally affirmed forecasts of a return to profitability for the car maker by 2011. "On profitability, the guidance we have given overall is to turn profitable by 2011," said Mulally, as reported by Dow Jones Newswires.

Further, Mulally said he expected U.S. vehicle sales to increase during the next two years as consumers take advantage of incentives and the nation's economy recovers from recession. Vehicle sales have already picked up thanks to stimulus packages, he said. Ford has about 15 percent of the U.S. market.

Sales may fluctuate for a short time, but will regain upward momentum as the economy starts to expand, Mulally said. He predicted annual U.S. sales volumes will reach 14.5 million by 2012. U.S. sales last year totaled 13.15 million.
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