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Ford bullish on Japan with new Asian investments

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Ford bullish on Japan with new Asian investments


AP Business Writer

TOKYO (AP) -- Ford hopes its investments in Asia will dramatically boost sales in Japan - a market so dominated by local makers like Toyota and Honda that the U.S. automaker has long struggled to maintain a toehold.

Tim Tucker, chief executive of Ford Motor Co.'s Japan operations, said Friday he was bullish about the potential for Japan, although he declined to give a sales target or specific product plans.

Last year, Ford sold just 2,200 vehicles in Japan - a tiny fraction of a market where new car sales last year totaled about 3 million vehicles.

But Tucker, who oversaw Ford's India business before taking his new post last month, was optimistic about potential growth, noting that Ford sold 30,000 vehicles in India last year and expects to sell 130,000 this year.

"We know we are going to grow our business," he said at a Tokyo event to unveil the Kuga sport-utility vehicle, one of five models Ford plans to introduce in Japan through 2012.

He declined to say whether Ford would bring a hybrid model to Japan, despite several questions from reporters.

Ford, based in Dearborn, Michigan, has a successful hybrid program in the U.S. exemplified in its Fusion hybrid. But it will face stiff competition in Japan, home to strong hybrid makers Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.

This week, Ford introduced in the U.S. the 2011 gas-electric hybrid Lincoln MKZ sedan for about $35,000, the same price as the gasoline-engine version.

Usually hybrids cost a couple of thousand dollars more than the equivalent regular model because of the ecological technology.

"All I can say is wait," he said on Ford's Japan possible hybrid rollout. "You will be pleasantly surprised."

Tucker acknowledged Ford has lagged in Japan but stressed Ford is now on an ambitious drive to attract Japanese who have never stepped into a Ford showroom before.

Ford's new strategy to invest in manufacturing in places like India, Thailand and China is a huge opportunity to boost sales in Japan, as well as other Asian nations, according to Tucker.

Ford is better able to respond to the recent shift in small cars in Japan and the Asian region, and it can bring down costs with higher production volumes, he said.

"We are very excited about the product plan we have in place," said Tucker.



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