US auto giant Ford Motor said Thursday it would storm the fast-growing Indian market with eight new models and turn the nation into an export hub for its popular locally made Figo hatchback.

Ford, which has invested one billion dollars in the country in the past decade, is seeking to overtake global rivals in penetrating the Indian market where car sales have been hitting record highs as the economy recovers.

"We have big plans for India and for this region," Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford Asia Pacific and Africa, told an industry event in New Delhi.

"By the middle of this decade we will introduce eight new vehicles to India," Hinrichs said, adding "the ambitious plan" would have a "tremendous impact on manufacturing, suppliers, dealers and employees in India."

Company officials said it would mean more spending in India but would not say how much.

As part of its Asian push, Ford announced separately plans to invest 350 million dollars with Japanese partner Mazda Motor Corp in their pick-up truck venture in Thailand, "reaffirming our ongoing strategic relationship."

Ford officials told AFP the company aimed to make the new cars for the Indian market locally and they would be in high volume segments such as the popular small car category, which accounts for around 70 percent of new sales.

"We're positioning India to be a key pillar of Ford's global manufacturing presence," Hinrichs said.

India has been fast turning into a battleground for global vehicle manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen. They have been hoping to offset sluggish sales at home by steering towards India and China, seeing huge potential in their billion-plus populations.

Sales of vehicles in India, still one of the world's least penetrated auto markets, have grown at an average annual rate of 17 percent over the past five years.

About 10 million to 11 million people are expected to migrate from two-wheeled forms of transport to small cars in the next few years as the middle-class swells in the country of 1.2 billion people.

Ford, slower than some rivals to attack the Indian market, has been setting up dealerships at a blistering pace as it makes up for lost time. It announced a 500-million-dollar plan last September to double capacity at its plant in the southern city of Chennai.

Hinrichs said the company would export the small made-for-India Figo to 50 countries, including Mexico, and across North Africa and the Middle East starting next year.

The move comes as an increasing number of carmakers have started using India as a low-cost export base.

Ford launched the Figo in March. Built in Chennai, it has been a hit, selling more than 30,000 units in 25 weeks. Ford, which also exports the Ford Fiesta to South Africa, has been exporting the Figo to South Africa since May.

Industry sales in the Asia Pacific and Africa region will more than double to nearly 35 million by 2018 from 16 million units in 2009, Hinrichs said.

"This will account for nearly 70 percent of Ford's worldwide future growth, Hinrichs said, adding, "India will be responsible for a large part of this growth."

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