Ford launches new models into “untapped” Africa

(Reuters) РFord Motor Co announced 17 new vehicles for Sub-Saharan Africa on Thursday, as carmakers jostle for position in one of the last major markets where potential growth remains largely untapped.

The models, among 25 to be introduced by 2016 in a broader product offensive across the¬†Middle East¬†and¬†Africa, draw on the U.S. auto giant’s global vehicle architectures to offer more up-to-date features for markets such as¬†South Africa.

Middle East¬†and¬†Africa¬†is the final frontier for global automotive growth,” Ford’s regional chief Jim Benintende said. “We’re putting the infrastructure and people in place to participate.”

Western carmakers are showing renewed interest in Africa, in some cases reviving previously abandoned manufacturing sites or considering new ones. Chinese brands are also a growing presence on the streets of cities such as Nairobi and Lagos.

On Wednesday, PSA¬†Peugeot¬†Citroen announced the gradual resumption of car assembly in¬†Nigeria,¬†Africa’s most populous country, and said it may soon add a second and third model there. [ID:nL6N0PR3M3]

Total vehicle sales across the¬†Middle East¬†and¬†Africa¬†region are expected to grow 40 percent by the end of the decade, according to Ford’s projections.

The planned model roll-out includes updated versions of the Focus compact and¬†Fusion¬†large car, escorted by Ford’s resurrected¬†Mustang¬†sports car.

They bring a step up in fuel economy, touch-screen connectivity and other features intended to hone Ford’s competitiveness against more spartan rivals in African markets.

At the start of this year, Ford created its¬†Middle East¬†&¬†Africa¬†business unit in a region that includes 67 countries, part of which until this year reported to Ford’s¬†Europeoperations, part to¬†North America¬†and part to¬†Asia-Pacific.

Ford sold about 200,000 autos in the Middle East and Africa in 2013, including a sales increase of 40 percent in South Africa to 64,500 vehicles, its top market in the region. Its second-biggest market in the region is Saudi Arabia, where it sold 54,000 vehicles last year.

IHS Automotive consultancy said Ford was fifth in South African auto sales last year with a 9 percent market share and sixth in Saudi Arabia with a 4 percent market share.

But Ford’s long-established South African manufacturing base may yet be undermined by industrial unrest.

Ford was forced to halt one of its two plants in the country this week as a wave of strikes that had crippled the mining sector and broader economy spread to auto suppliers, with workers seeking pay increases of 12 percent to 15 percent. [ID:nL6N0PP1L7]

The stoppages have also hit General Motors, Toyota, and Mercedes-Benz and may soon affect BMW and Nissan unless resolved swiftly.

Ford regional chief Benintende has sought to play down suggestions that unrest could ultimately force the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker to move production elsewhere.