Ford Brazil is emerging as the design source of the new Fiesta-based passenger car to be built at the international car giant’s Chinese joint venture factory, writes deputy editor Graeme Roberts.

Ford last April spent $US49 million for a 50% share of a joint venture with the Chang’An Auto Group in a plant to build up to 50,000 cars a year to sell at about 100,000 yuan ($US12,000) each and last week announced it would build a Fiesta-based model there at the rate of up to 150,000 units a year.

The new car will be a direct competitor for GM’s Buick Sail compact sedan,  based on the previous-model European Opel Corsa – which was also designed in Brazil – and built in China by a $US1.5 billion joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industry.

At first glance, Ford’s now well-established Ikon – based on the previous model Fiesta and developed especially for emerging markets such as India, South Africa and Mexico – would appear to be odds-on favourite. When launching the compact sedan in South Africa last year, Ford told journalists there was at least another five years left in the platform.

However, a report in the Beijing Youth Daily as far back as May 2001 said that the Ikon would not be made in China.

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The newspaper said Ford’s Chinese partners had denied rumours that the joint venture would produce the Ikon because the partners were concerned that the sedan spin-off would be outdated in two years.

Instead, the Beijing Youth Daily said, the Chinese parties hoped Ford would provide brand-new products to meet competition two years ahead.

If so, the planned Brazilian-designed Fiesta sedan derivative may be the model chosen. Ford recently launched the Fiesta in Brazil in hatchback form, with updated locally-built 1.0 and 1.6-litre eight-valve RoCam engines, and said that the range would soon be expanded to include Fusion SUV, sedan, pickup and minivan derivatives.

Last week, Ford said it had made over 200 changes to adapt the Fiesta to the Chinese market, including offering an automatic transmission and one- and 1.5-litre engines.

The first Chinese made Fiesta-based vehicle is due off the line in the western city of Chongqing around next April, a Ford spokesman said last week. That coincides with the planned launch of the new Fiesta sedan in Brazil.

The Ikon has 1.3- and 1.6-litre South African-made RoCam eight valve SOHC engines while European versions of the new Fiesta are offered with 1.3, 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engines and a new 1.4-litre turbodiesel developed jointly with the PSA Group.

Automatic transmission is not yet available.