July 13, 2007 / 3:13 AM / in 11 years

Ford Australia eyes lifting exports to boost profit

MELBOURNE, July 13 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co’s (F.N) loss-making Australian unit said on Friday it is considering boosting exports as one option to become more profitable in the tough Australian market.

“Essentially, we are looking for a new manufacturing strategy that is going to set us up for the future. The alternatives include an export program,” Ford Australia spokeswoman Sinead McAlary told Reuters.

Ford, Australia’s third-ranked automaker by sales in the year to June 2007, is operating below capacity at its main plant in Melbourne and local media have said it may close an engine plant in Geelong, outside Melbourne, that opened in 1926.

“There are a number of studies underway and I can’t be specific about any of them. We have to become more efficient and we have to change our business,” McAlary said.

Australians increasingly are buying smaller vehicles than Ford’s flagship model, the six-cylinder Falcon, and domestically made cars account for a shrinking proportion of total sales.

Ford swung to a net loss of A$40.3 million for its 2006 fiscal year, from a net profit of A$148.2 million in 2005.

    It currently has a small export program of 7,000 vehicles to New Zealand, South Africa and Thailand, out of a total of 81,500 locally made cars.

    But it has failed to make inroads as rapidly as dominant rival Toyota Motor Corp.’s (7203.T) Australian unit, which has a strong export program to the Middle East.

    Total Australian car sales topped a record 1 million units in the year to June, according to industry figures, with Ford’s market share of 10.4 percent lagging Toyota’s 22.2 percent and General Motors Corp. (GM.N) unit Holden’s 14.5 percent.

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