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November 24, 2005

JAPAN: Ford switches Explorer from right- to left-hand drive

Ford is reported to be putting the steering wheel back on the "wrong" side in Japan - hoping it will boost the cache of its Explorer sport utility vehicle.

Ford is reported to be putting the steering wheel back on the “wrong” side in Japan – hoping it will boost the cache of its Explorer sport utility vehicle.

The Associated Press (AP) said that, for years, Ford sold right-hand drive models of the Explorer in Japan, where everyone drives on the left, but Ford Japan president Katsuhiko Sato said studies show that left-hand drive cars symbolise expensive imports in Japan, and that switching the steering wheel could add value to the Explorer, which Ford sees as representative of its brand.

“It’s proposing the American way, an easier lifestyle that emphasises the individual,” Sato reportedly said on Thursday at a news conference unveiling the redesigned Explorer.

Makers of luxury German cars – and England’s Jaguar – have long offered their models in Japan with the choice of right- or left-hand drive. Apart from the exclusivity of LHD, such cars are often bought by corporate customers and are chauffeur driven. Having the steering wheel on the left positions the driver next to the kerb so he can more quickly open the rear door for his executive passengers.

AP said Ford hopes the new version of the Explorer, the top-selling SUV in the United States for more than a decade, will help it achieve its goal of boosting sales in Japan by as much as 30% next year.

Sato reportedly said Ford is growing in Japan, well on its way to selling 6,600 vehicles in Japan, up 21% from 5,434 vehicles in 2003 – although sales of foreign imported cars have been relatively flat in recent years.

Ford expects to sell 2,000 Explorers this year in Japan, where it also sells European Mondeo, Focus and Fiesta sedans and the Escape sport utility vehicle. Sato told AP no other Japan models are planned with the steering wheel on the left.

Ford also hopes to boost vehicle sales to 10,000 a year in Japan “as soon as possible,” Sato said.

According to The Associated Press, Sato said the Explorer is key to Ford’s growth strategy in the world’s second largest economy.

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