Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally is expected in India to reveal the automaker’s new locally made small car tomorrow (23rd September).
The new car, codenamed B517, is scheduled for launch next March.
Three weeks ago, Ford said the factory near Chennai was close to ready for volume production of the new car after work to double its capacity and become a strategic production hub rather than focus 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.
The plant has so far built cars solely for India – the Ikon (a sedan based on an outdated Fiesta line; also built and sold in other developing markets), Fiesta (previous generation; Ford Brazil builds a variant), Fusion (the European version) and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.
For both world-class quality and volume production, Ford has increases the level of automation especially for major operations in body construction and painting to deliver consistent quality. The expansion added 92 robots in key areas of the plant.
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. It recently started pre-production ahead of volume production in the new year.
Local reports, citing company officials, said the new model would be offered with 1.2-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel engines to satisfy the Indian government’s definition of a small car.
Ford reportedly is talking with Tata Steel to get better steel prices for its increased volume. It had earlier sourced steel blankets – cut steel sheets – from a sister plant in Thailand.
Ford India MD Michael Boneham has said that almost 70% of the current US$500m investment in India was spent on the Chennai plant expansion where the automaker is also building a diesel engine manufacturing facility.