Ford eyes India, China to hit 50% growth target

Updated: 2011-06-08 15:11
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Ford Motor Co is aiming to expand its presence in the fast-growing auto markets of India and China with an eye toward increasing the number of vehicles it sells per year by 50 percent by the middle of the decade.

Ford also said on Tuesday that it would cut its debt by 15.7 percent to about $14 billion by the end of June, bringing it to less than half the $33.6 billion it was carrying in 2009. The company wants to regain an investment-grade debt rating, which it sees as necessary to resuming paying a dividend, but it does not expect to reinstate its dividend before next year.

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Chief Financial Officer Lewis Booth told investors at a meeting in New York City that Ford planned to cut its overall debt to about $10 billion by the middle of the decade.

"We believe we will achieve and maintain an investment-grade rating through the business cycle," Booth said.

The No 2 US automaker, like its rival General Motors Co, is looking to markets other than the United States because of lingering weakness in the economy. The company said it would concentrate on small cars, popular in developing economies, and that it was aiming for sales of small cars to represent 55 percent of total vehicle sales by 2020.

Small cars currently represent about 48 percent of Ford's total vehicle sales.

"They are going to have to do a lot of scrambling in Asia," said George Magliano, director of auto industry research for IHS Automotive Insight. "They are latecomers in Asia. GM took the risk in China and has a bigger stake now."

A 50 percent sales increase by the middle of the decade would bring Ford's annual vehicle sales to 8 million.

Gary Bradshaw, a portfolio manager at Hodges Capital Management, which holds Ford shares, described the target of 8 million vehicles as "ambitious, but it's doable."

The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker aims to triple its number of dealers in India to 340 by 2016. As it rolls out more small vehicles, the company aims to have more cars in the categories that Indian shoppers buy, global sales and marketing chief Jim Farley said.

It aims to raise this metric, known as "market coverage" to 68 percent in 2015 from the current 16 percent, Farley said. In China, Ford aims to grow its market coverage to 50 percent in 2015 from 22 percent.

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