Ford sets goal to expand sales in Asia

AP News
Posted: Jun 07, 2011 2:42 PM
Ford sets goal to expand sales in Asia

Ford Motor Co. said Tuesday that it wants to expand its global sales by 50 percent by the middle of this decade, mostly through growth in Asia.

The company aims to sell 8 million vehicles in the next five or six years, up from 5.3 million last year. It wants more than one-third of its sales to come from its Asia Pacific and Africa region by 2020. That's double the 838,000 cars and trucks sold in that region today.

Ford's Asia Pacific region includes China, India, Australia, South Africa and Japan, where it controlled 2.4 percent of sales last year.

Analysts are concerned that Ford is lagging behind rivals like GM and Volkswagen in Asia. Ford's sales more than doubled in India last year thanks to the introduction of the Figo, an $8,000 subcompact. But Ford still controls less than 3 percent of the market in India. The company said it will expand its offerings in India from three cars to eight by the middle of this decade.

Ford also said it will add 10 cars to its lineup in China, where it currently offers five. Ford controls 2.7 percent of the market in China, compared to a 14-percent share for GM.

The company presented its plans at a three-hour meeting for investors in New York.

Ford said most of the vehicles it builds will be sold globally, but it will offer lower-priced versions in emerging markets to attract buyers.

Small cars will represent 55 percent of its sales by 2020, compared with 48 percent today. While those cars are less profitable than Ford's larger trucks and SUVs, the company said it will improve operating margins to 8 to 9 percent by the middle of the decade from 6.1 percent now. Ford is making small cars more profitably than it once did. Instead of developing different cars for different regions of the world, it builds more cars off of fewer underpinnings and sells them globally.

Chief Financial Officer Lewis Booth expects the company's debt will return to investment-grade status in the next year, which would substantially lower its interest expenses. Ford lost its investment-grade rating in 2005, when it was deeply in debt. It borrowed $23 billion in 2006 to fund a restructuring that involved cutting staff and brands such as Volvo. It also revamped vehicles.

As a result, the company rebounded and recently reported its eighth-straight quarterly profit.

Booth said Ford plans to reduce its debt by $2.6 billion by the end of the second quarter. The company will then have $14 billion in debt and it hopes to reduce that to $10 billion by the middle of the decade, he said.

Ford began developing its growth plan in the middle of 2009, when it started achieving its profit goals in North America and turned its attention to opportunities elsewhere, Booth said.

He said the company still has no plans to take its Lincoln luxury brand overseas. Ford is in the midst of overhauling the slow-selling brand and will keep it in North America for now.

Ford was the world's fifth largest automaker in 2010, behind Toyota Motor Corp., General Motors Co., Volkswagen AG and Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group.