Ford yesterday confirmed rumours of a few months ago by announcing its new Chinese joint venture factory would make a Fiesta-based passenger car.

Last April, Ford 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.

Production could be increased to 150,000 units a year if the venture is a success.

The first Fiesta-based vehicle is due off the line in the western city of Chongqing around next April, according to a Ford spokesman.

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

To adapt the Fiesta to the Chinese market, Ford has made over 200 changes including offering an automatic transmission and one- and 1.5-litre engines.

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It is still not clear, though, whether the Chinese Fiesta-based car will be the Ikon sedan derivative based on the ‘old’ Fiesta, developed for, and sold in, emerging markets such as India, South Africa and Mexico, or a new car based on the new Fiesta launched this year.

On the face of it, Ford’s ‘third world’ Fiesta-based Ikon sedan would seem the logical car for production at the joint venture in China as it has been developed to extend the platform’s life for at least five years.

But a report in the Beijing Youth Daily in May 2001 said that the Ikon model would not be made in China.

According to the report, Ford’s Chinese partners have denied rumours that the joint venture would produce the Ikon, currently built in India, Africa and Mexico.

The Ikon is based on the old European Fiesta, replaced in September, and the partners were concerned that the sedan spin-off would be outdated in two years.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, a planned Brazilian-designed Fiesta sedan derivative may be the model chosen. Ford recently launched the Fiesta in Brazil in hatcback form, with updated 1.0 and 1.6-litre locally-built eight-valve RoCam engines, and said that the range would soon be expanded to include Fusion SUV, sedan, pickup and minivan derivatives.

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.