Siddharth Vinayak Patankar recently sat down with Mark Fields, President & CEO of the Ford Motor Company, for an exclusive chat at the inauguration of Ford’s new plant in Sanand, Gujarat, and the launch of Ford’s brand-new compact sedan – the Figo Aspire.
What made you choose Sanand as the location for your second plant?
We are here obviously to inaugurate the new plant, as well as launch our new product, the Figo Aspire. And, for us, India is a very important market. It’s a market that’s growing. We view the market growing upwards to 7 million units by the end of the decade. So it’s a very important growth market. And, for us, we chose Sanand for a couple of reasons. One is a very educated workforce. The location is very good in terms of being near the port. And, at the same time, we’ve received very good support from the government to set up a shop here. And, finally, there’s a good automobile supplier base here as well. And those things make Sanand an excellent place to inaugurate this plant. We’re investing about a billion dollars in the plant and creating 2,500 direct jobs, which will lead to a number of indirect jobs as well. So, we are very pleased to be investing in India. And this investment has topped over 2 billion dollars in the last couple of years.
You’ve doubled the investment in India. What does it do for you in terms of production capacity?
Well, it’s very significant. Essentially, we’re doubling our capacity – both for assembly and vehicles, but also for the production of engines. So, with this new plant, it’ll bring our assembly capacity here in India to over 4,40,000 units and over 6,10,000 engines. And it’s important because a large part of that production will be for the domestic market to help grow our business. But also, at the same time, we want to establish India as a great export hub for Ford. And our vision for the next five years is to triple the exports of some of the terrific vehicles being produced here. I’m recalling a meeting that I had with Prime Minister Modi a numbers of months ago. It was a couple of weeks after he took office, and he was gracious enough to give us an audience. I had a chance to talk with him, tell him about the investment plan for India. And I asked Prime Minister Modi how we at Ford can help India. And he said that I would really like to see you develop Ford (India) as an export base to help support the ‘Make in India’ strategy that he’s put in place. So, we’re really happy to be a part of it.
The government has been making a concerted effort to reduce the red tape in India. Do you think these changes are coming fast enough?
We’re very encouraged by the speed, and the overall business friendly approach of the country. Of course, there’s room for improvement. And we’re always willing to give suggestions – we want to be a part of the solution. Clearly, there’s an opportunity to speed up approvals. But I think the country in heading in the right direction.
Where does India fit into your global strategy?
To put it into perspective, one of our long term goals is to be top-five in sales globally. And when you look at the growth at the end of the decade – 2020 – almost half of that growth is going to come from China and India. So India is really important for us if we’re going to achieve that goal. And the second reason for us to be successful in India is because the customer is so demanding that it’s really teaching us how to be cost competitive. Not only in this country, but we can use this learning around the world as we look to satisfy more customers.
When we talk about the ‘One Ford’ plan, do you think there’s a need to find a balance between your market-suited products and some of your global nameplates – like the Focus, or even, the Mustang?
Well, I do think it’s a mixture. Because what we’ve learnt again is making sure there is a certain level of tailoring depending on the product. But also, at the same time, I think the beauty of our plan is it allows us to bring products to a market much faster than we ever would before. And that’s what’s important to customers. I think customers don’t really think about the company strategy and how that’ll benefit them. They’re just looking at the product line-up. When they’re in the market, they’re looking at the competition, they’re going to different showrooms, and we want to be there for them with a full selection of vehicles. And that’s what the ‘One Ford’ plan is able to do, and that’s the real benefit to the customers.
In India, you have vehicles like the Ecosport, and even the Endevaour to some extent, which have been great flagships for you. But when you have icons like the Mustang in your portfolio – which of course delivers a different kind of message and plays a different role – do you think there’s room for it in India?
I think, at the end of the day, what’s most important for consumers (and us) is building a brand. A brand that’s relevant and vibrant, which consumers can trust. And I think we’ve been able to do that through the products that we’ve introduced – the Figo, the Ecosport, or the Endeavour. If I look at products like Mustang – well, you never know…
(Siddharth is Editor, Auto, at NDTV Group.)