Encouraging news of fresh investment by a US car giant suggests sales could soon start to climb in South America.

Ford’s regional president reportedly said on Wednesday that the firm will spend $US10-15 million this year launching five new products in the Andean region to boost market share.

“We have investments of $10 million to $15 million planned in the Andean region, with an emphasis on Venezuela where the products are manufactured and assembled,” Ford’s Emmanuel Cassingena told Reuters.

According to the report, the company expects to double 2004 production to 32,000 units in Venezuela, of which 24,000 will be sold there while the rest are shipped to Colombia and Ecuador.

In 2003, Ford spent $30 million in the Andean region, of which 75% went to Venezuela whose plant can build 300 vehicles daily, Reuters added.

Cassingena reportedly said the output rise was geared toward meeting higher regional demand.

“We are optimistic that we are going to grow from market penetration of 20 to 24% [in Venezuela],” he told Reuters.

Ford’s sales in Venezuela barely topped 12,000 units, the report noted, as total car sales halved to 63,726 units in 2003 as a recession in the world’s fifth largest crude oil exporter deepened due to a crippling two-month oil industry strike.

Cassingena told Reuters that Ford expects Venezuelan demand to bounce back to 100,000 units this year as the oil-rich nation’s economy improves.

In Colombia’s 95,000-unit market, Ford hopes to boost its market share to 5% from between 3.2 and 3.9% last year and also plans to increase its share of the 55,000-unit Ecuador market from 4.5% in 2003 to 5 to 6% in 2004, Reuters said.