Ford unveils the Figo, new small car for India

The U.S. automaker gets serious about the lucrative Indian car market with this latest model.

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by Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com senior writer

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The Ford Figo will go on sale in 2010.

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Ford Motor Company unveiled a new small car at a press conference in Delhi, India on Wednesday. The subcompact, which is called the Figo, will be produced in India for the Indian market, as well as for export to other Asian countries and Africa.

The Figo's launch "signals Ford's intention to compete in India's largest and most important small-car market segment," the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker said in an announcement.

A little over 1 million passenger cars are sold in India each year, according to Ford spokesman Mark Schirmer. The automaker expects India to become the third largest market for small cars, behind the U.S. and China, by 2030.

India-based Tata Motors and Japan's Suzuki Motors are currently among the country's biggest-selling carmakers.

Ford (F, Fortune 500) has invested $500 million in its factory near Chennai, India, to prepare it for high-volume production of the Figo, the automaker said, doubling the plant's capacity to 200,000 units per year.

The Figo was designed and engineered in India, Ford said, but it's based on the existing small-car engineering platform that's already used for the Ford Fiesta.

Ford currently sells a version of the Fiesta in India, as well as three of its other car models. While all of these Ford models would be considered small cars in the U.S., they're each bigger than the Figo, which is about the size of a Honda Fit.

According to Ford, small cars like these makes up about 70% of the Indian car market. "[That's] where the meat of the Indian market is," Ford spokesman Mark Schirmer said of the Figo.

No additional details about the car -- such as what size engine it will use, its fuel economy or its price -- were revealed.

"We're confident that the new Ford Figo will be extremely attractive to Indian car buyers," said Michael Boneham, president and managing director, Ford India. "It's going to be very competitive with the current market leaders and offer a tremendous value story for our consumers. We believe Ford Figo is a big game-changer for Ford that will help transform our brand into a volume player in India."

The car represents a major shift in Ford's India strategy, the automaker said in its announcement. India will now become Ford's "regional center of excellence" for small car engineering and production.

For the past several years, Ford Motor Co. has been moving toward a global structure in which different facilities around the world become "centers of excellence" for different types of vehicles, responsible for engineering that is shared throughout the company. Australia, for instance, is a "center of excellence" for rear-wheel-drive cars, while U.S. engineers concentrate on trucks.

The Figo will go on sale in early 2010. Ford has not announced any plans to sell the car outside markets in Asia and Africa. To top of page

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