'My role will be to execute and see through the successful implementation of Ford’s expansion and break the myth that Ford vehicles are expensive.'

Nigel Harris, Ford India’s president, on his priorities here, a promising B-segment, the upcoming plant in Gujarat and why the US carmaker remains committed to India. An email interview by Shobha Mathur.

By Shobha Mathur calendar 20 Aug 2014 Views icon3944 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
'My role will be to execute and see through the successful implementation of Ford’s expansion and break the myth that Ford vehicles are expensive.'

Nigel Harris, Ford India’s president, on his priorities here, a promising B-segment, the upcoming plant in Gujarat and why the US carmaker remains committed to India. An email interview by Shobha Mathur. 

You have earlier this year taken over as the president of Ford India. What are your priorities for the Indian market — short-term and long-term?
India is a vital pillar for Ford to achieve growth in worldwide sales by mid-decade. The company is committed to invest over $2 billion in India. As part of its strategy, we are going for the heart of the Indian automobile market and plan to strengthen our presence in key segments.
The top priorities, therefore, are to favourably position the Ford brand in some of the highly competitive segments to gain market and mind share. In a market that is set to reach 7 million vehicles by 2020, my role leading Ford India will be to execute and see through the successful implementation of Ford’s expansion and break the myth that Ford vehicles are expensive.

Ford is believed to have rejigged its product launch plans from its earlier projection of 8 new models for India by mid-decade due to the slowdown. What are the fresh plans for a new product rollout?
The pace of product introductions has to be in tune with market needs and business conditions. Over the last 15 months, the Indian automobile industry has continued to see challenging times.
In relation, we have also been adjusting our plans to review the pace of our product introduction to ensure more focused products get introduced in India at an appropriate time.
Ford’s faith in India’s long-term growth, however, remains steadfast and we are fully committed to introduce the most relevant products at the most opportune time for customers.
Leading to mid-decade, Ford India will potentially introduce three new products in the next 18-24 months, demonstrating the growing scale of our operations to become a volume player to support both domestic and international demand.
As business conditions improve in the long term, we are simultaneously studying the feasibility of a couple of more projects beyond 2015 in line with the emergence of new segments and consumer trends. It’s however too early to discuss specifics about the product introduction strategy.

In which new vehicle segments does Ford see potential growth, especially as India is an important market for Ford in Asia?
The B-segment (compact sedans and hatchbacks) is the most competitive market segment in India and has been outpacing the industry for the past decade, accounting for almost a third of total sales in 2013. Ford expects the B-segment sales to grow from about a million units last year to roughly two million units by 2018, reflecting the significance of compact cars to Indian consumers. We have witnessed unprecedented success with our game-changer Ford Figo and the urban SUV Ford EcoSport. The Ford Figo Concept, which was unveiled recently, has received great feedback from auto enthusiasts and reiterates our intent to focus on the segment.

What will be the export strategy for tapping new markets for the EcoSport and for engine exports during FY’15?
Ford is uniquely positioned to enhance India’s credentials as a world-class manufacturing hub for automobiles both domestic and exports. With the strategy for accelerating exports in addition to domestic sales opportunities, Ford will continue to utilise its India facilities to export to several global markets.

The current fiscal will see Ford’s Gujarat plant go on stream. How far will the Sanand facility go towards giving a boost to the company’s export strategy?
The upcoming integrated manufacturing facility is gearing up to be operational and roll off production in 2015. Along with Chennai, the new facility in Sanand will more than double our installed annual capacity to 440,000 vehicles and 610,000 engines. With the Sanand facility becoming operational, we expect the exports to nearly triple and grow to nearly 50 markets over the next five years.

Ford was developing a new diesel engine to be produced at the Sanand plant. What is the current status and will it cater to both the domestic and export markets?
As a company policy, we do not comment on speculations.

Can you elaborate on your roadmap for India and how do you feel the recent Budget announcements will impact Ford’s India plans?
The Union Budget is growth oriented and presents a progressive roadmap to spur investments and infrastructure development. The ongoing excise benefits, along with the finance minister’s proposal to boost savings through revised tax structure, will surely strengthen consumer sentiment. We hope the government will continue its pro-reform outlook and will soon introduce a roadmap for the implementation of GST to benefit the business environment as well as the auto industry.

With diesel prices rising in India, will Ford be reshuffling its preference in favour of petrol cars?
At Ford, we believe in building the capacity and offering the global standard products that our Indian customers want and value. Our state-of-the-art integrated manufacturing and flexible powertrain facility in Chennai is fully capable of producing multiple car bodylines and accelerating the production of petrol and diesel engines as the market demands.
Our investment in a flexi-assembly line helps us retain our versatility to adapt to evolving market scenarios, both domestic and exports. Ford’s Chennai facility is capable of annually producing 200,000 vehicles and 340,000 petrol and diesel engines to offer the ‘power of choice’ to consumers.

What does Ford view as the challenges to future growth of exports from South India?
We have built a long and solid relationship with Tamil Nadu and the community through our 19 years of operations in this state. Ford is proud of its world-class engine and product assembly operations in Chennai and its passionate and dedicated workforce. We continue to grow this relationship with South India and work with relevant authorities to address and overcome infrastructure challenges.

How are the port and logistics facilities in South India and do you plan to use any other southern port other than the Chennai Port?
Chennai continues to be one of the most important automotive clusters due to its connectivity, industry friendly policies and skilled workforce. Chennai is our gateway to the world. Ford India has a dedicated car parking yard at the Chennai port and recently signed an MoU with Ennore Port Limited (EPL), Chennai, for the export of its Chennai-built Ford vehicles.

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