| MEXICO CITY
MEXICO CITY Mexican sales of Ford's Lobo pick-up, popular with drug cartel hitmen, are falling along with those of similar vehicles because motorists fear being mistaken for gangsters by soldiers and police, the head of the U.S. automaker's local subsidiary said on Thursday.
"It's a vehicle that is in high demand for committing crimes," said Gabriel Lopez, the new president of Ford in Mexico. "There's plenty of space in the pick-up's cabin for more weapons."
A slump in sales of the Lobo, part of the F-Series pick-ups made by Ford Motor Co, has helped pushed the company's total market share in Mexico down to 10.7 percent from 16 percent a few years ago, Lopez told a news conference.
Heavily armed members of drug cartels are known to steal pick-up trucks when they launch attacks on rivals or security forces as part of Mexico's increasingly bloody war on drugs.
"The (sale) of big pick-ups for personal use has fallen because of insecurity. It is the only segment that has," Lopez said.
Mexico's auto industry, which sends most of the vehicles it produces to the United States, is slowly recovering from a deep recession. But Ford's sales in Mexico fell 7.1 percent in the nine months ended September from the same period a year earlier, according to industry data.
Lopez said sales of pick-ups made by other automakers had also fallen for the same reason, but declined to give details.
Mexican soldiers often stop Lobo drivers at checkpoints and at borders, suspecting them of being drug traffickers.
As civilian deaths have risen in the drug war, which has killed more than 31,000 people across Mexico over the past four years, motorists have become wary of being taken for hitmen.
Drug violence threatens Mexico's economic recovery too. A survey of 220 U.S. private companies by the U.S. State Department conducted in July and released in October showed 15 percent have postponed near-term investments or expansion plans in Mexico due to drug violence.
(Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Missy Ryan and Eric Walsh)