Ford Venezuela is expecting record car sales this year and plans to boost production by 80 percent accordingly, Bloomberg News reported.

Bloomberg quoted Ford as saying it would invest $US16.2 million and hire 150 new workers to increase Valencia plant production from 100 to 180 units per day. The plant currently employs 1,400.

"Venezuela is definitely going to be the regional leader this year," Ford spokesman Ricardo Tinoco told Bloomberg News. "Repressed demand and lower, stable interest rates are really going to provide a thrust."

The news organisation said that car makers are predicting that Venezuelan sales may rise as much as 30 percent this year to 190,000 units, which would surpass the country's all-time record, set in 1977, of 157,612 units. The government predicts gross domestic product will grow 4.5 percent this year on increased government spending, Bloomberg added.

Tinoco told Bloomberg that Ford's Venezuelan sales could rise up to 55 percent this year to 35,000 units, or 20 percent of the estimated market, with the introduction of six new models, including the 2002 Explorer. But the company declined to name the other five new vehicles.

"We're really counting on the new models to reach our market share goal," Tinoco added. "Two will be sport-utility vehicles, two will be cars, and one will be a truck."

Bloomberg said that General Motors was the sales leader in Venezuela in 2000 with 35,732 units, or 25 percent of the market, followed by Ford with 15 percent and Toyota de Venezuela with 14 percent.

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