Ford wants to raise its game in ASEAN

By Ploy Ten Kate

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co <F.N> said on Wednesday it planned to introduce eight new vehicles into Southeast Asia over the next five years as part of its effort to win market share in the fast-growing region.

The second-largest U.S. automaker has had a "favorable" year so far with sales across the region over the past two months rising 175 percent, driven by sales of its Fiesta small cars, Peter Fleet, president of Ford ASEAN, told Reuters.

"We are very serious about growth in this region," Fleet said in an interview, adding it would be using its manufacturing base in Thailand as the hub for that growth in countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Ford has less than 2 percent of the ASEAN and Thai markets.

"It's just because historically in this market we've offered a very limited line-up of vehicles that are built within the Free Trade Area," Fleet, said.

Toyota Motor Co <7203.T> had by far the biggest share of the vehicle market in Thailand in 2010 with 40.7 percent, compared with Isuzu's <7202.T> 19.1 percent, Honda's <7267.T> 14.3 percent and Nissan Motor's <7201.T> 6.8 percent, industry data showed.

Thailand is home to Ford's largest sales operation in ASEAN. It also has the biggest automotive market in the region, but Fleet said: "That's not always going to be that way."

"Indonesia as a sales market in terms of the number of vehicles bought by customers will overtake Thailand ... The industry gap today is not that considerable, maybe 50,000 units a year, something of that order."


The 44-year-old executive, who was appointed ASEAN president in April 2010, said he was determined to raise his game and transform its business.

Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford is introducing its Ranger pick-up trucks in Thailand this year after they made their world debut late last year in Australia.

Thailand will be one of three global hubs for exporting the trucks to an estimated 180 markets, with production starting later this year at the AutoAlliance plant, a joint venture between Ford and Mazda <7261.T> in eastern Rayong province.

Analysts said the introduction of a range of new pick-up trucks -- including offerings from General Motors <GM.N>, Mazda and Ford this year -- was expected to fuel competition in Thailand, the world's second-biggest market for these vehicles after the United States and the market leader for the one-ton pick-up.

Pick-ups accounted for around 40 percent of all vehicles sold in the country in 2010.

Next year Ford plans to introduce another model to tap the regional market, with analysts expecting it to be a new medium-sized Focus vehicle.

Concerns about supply-chain disruptions from Japan's earthquake have grown as some Asian businesses slow production to preserve stockpiles of crucial imported components.

But Fleet said Ford had suffered no disruption.

"Right now, we have no immediate impact to our production in terms of our supply chain, but clearly you would expect us to be looking at that on a daily basis," he said.

Ford, under CEO Alan Mulally's management, has seen a turnaround in recent years, with earnings of $9.28 billion in the last two years after $30.1 billion in losses from 2006 through 2008.

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(Editing by Alan Raybould)