Ford India on Thursday said its factory near Chennai is close to ready for volume production of a new small car after work to double its capacity and become a strategic production hub rather than focused solely on models for India.
 
Following the US$500m revamp, the plant in Maraimalai Nagar will produce the new car for export to other international markets. India is already used as an export base by Suzuki, Hyundai and Nissan.
 
"India's long-term significance in our strategy for this region is readily evident with the completion of this new plant," said John Parker, executive vice president, Asia Pacific and Africa, for Ford. "We've committed in total more than $950m in recent years to make India one of Ford's strategic production hubs."
 
The plant has so far built cars solely for India - the Ikon (a sedan based on an outdated Fiesta line), Fiesta (previous generation), Fusion (the European version) and Endeavour (a locally developed SUV). The new car, likely to be a local adaptation of the new European Fiesta, will target "the heart of the Indian car market" and production capacity has been upped to 200,000 vehicles annually. Like other BRIC markets, Indian buyers mostly prefer sedans.
 
Until its transformation, the plant was designed for manual assembly methods. It was essential, for both world-class quality and volume production, to increase the level of automation especially for major operations in body construction and painting to deliver consistent quality vehicle after vehicle. The expansion added 92 robots in key areas of the plant to handle repetitive tasks with high degrees of accuracy and precision. 
 
The new paint process called 'three-wet high-solids' is a first for India and applies three wet coats - primer, base coat and clear coat - of high solids-content paint one after the other. Because it eliminates oven curing between coats, the process produces fewer carbon dioxide emissions and reduces volatile organic compounds emissions by about 20% compared to current medium-solids solvent-borne paints.
 
Other developments include a new stamping press line and automated crossbar technology to double the plant's metal pressing capacity for body panels, new flexible body shop, extension of the trim and final assembly line for flexible assembly capability, a new, 3.2km test circuit, squeak-and-rattle test track, a dynamic water-wading testbed and a four-post hydro lifter for extreme road-condition simulation testing.

Plant footprint is up from 250 to 353 acres, approximately 60% of which is built up.
 
The new plant features an enlarged supplier park. According to Ford India, up to 85% of parts supplies for the new car will be sourced locally.
 
Through conveyor systems, the updated plant is geared for production sequence delivery of a greater proportion of supplier component assemblies like instrument panels, wheel-and-tyre units and front-end modules from on-site suppliers.
 
Ford has started pre-production of the new car ahead of the start of volume production in the new year.