BANGKOK, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Fears of slow growth in the United States for years to come and a wallowing Europe are spurring Ford Motor Co to focus its expansion efforts, the largest in over half a century, on Asia.
“We have massive investments going on globally and really at an unprecedented rate for us. We have very ambitious growth plans built on global products. Our plan is very aggressive and a lot of it is based here in Asia,” said Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford, while speaking to journalists at a roundtable in Bangkok on Thursday.
Ford also said that a Chinese nationalist backlash against Japanese auto manufacturers - spurred by a Sino-Japanese territorial disputes over the Diaoyu or Senakaku islands in the East China Sea - is boosting sales for the American company in China.
“I think that we’re doing very well in China. Our share is up and our sales are up, but one needs to be cautious. These things ebb and flow,” said Ford. “There’s no question there’s been an effect, but we’re not really building our business on that.”
Other non-Japanese car makers are refusing to disclose whether Chinese sales have risen during the ongoing maritime dispute.
Thailand will be one of the foundations of Ford’s business in Asia, with the company intending to use it as a regional export hub for the rest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
More than 90 percent of Ford’s production for the 10 countries of ASEAN is in Thailand, where vehicle manufacturing capacity is 445,000 units per year.
“We have big plans for Thailand and we have big plans for the region,” said Ford.
Those plans involve the construction of nine new plants. Ford’s second plant in Thailand, costing $450 million, opened in Rayong in May 2012. In China the company recently started operating a new plant in Chongqing.
Five factories in China and two in India are currently under construction. When these plants are completed, Ford’s production capacity in the region will double to 2.9 million vehicles per year by mid-decade.
There are risks associated with the region however. In late 2011 Thailand was struck by devastating floods, ravaging the region’s auto manufacturers.
Ford praised its supplier network and their rapid recovery from the floods, which were responsible for supply chain disruptions and a key contributor to an $83 million loss for Ford’s Asia-Pacific region in the fourth quarter of last year.
Despite the risks and pressures from things like relatively high Thai wages and rival Indonesia providing cheaper auto manufacturing, Ford stressed Thailand would remain central to its regional strategy.
“This region is where the action is and that’s going to be true off into the future,” Ford said.