Ford 'may cash in on Japanese disruption'

Ford yesterday said it saw significant scope to tempt buyers away from Japanese car manufacturers that are battling production delays caused by the March earthquake and tsunami.

Speaking at the launch of a new model of its Explorer sport utility vehicle in Tokyo, the chief executive of the group's Japanese business Tim Tucker said: "The opportunities for Ford in Japan have never been greater."

Ford has long harboured ambitions for growth in Japan but in common with other US carmakers, has lagged in a market dominated by Toyota, Nissan and Honda.

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The Japanese manufacturers have not been able to produce at full capacity since the earthquake and tsunami destroyed key parts suppliers in north eastern Japan.

Some customers are not expecting vehicles to be delivered for months in Japan and many will have to wait until next year. Tucker said there have been signs that people who might have otherwise bought a Toyota or Honda are opting for a Ford.

Ford's sales in Japan grew 5 per cent in 2010 but American cars don't generally enjoy a strong profile in Japan partly because they tend to be too large for Japan's crowded streets and have an image of being gas-guzzlers with poor reliability records.

Ford is hoping to build its brand in Japan as "quality, safe, smart and green," according to Tucker.

The Japanese vehicle market has been stagnant for years but the disaster that devastated the north eastern coast, leaving more than 25,000 people dead or missing, has further depressed consumer sentiment.

Car production in Japan for March plunged 57 per cent from a year earlier to 404,039 vehicles - the sixth straight month of decline.

While acknowledging Ford must be cautious about prospects in the troubled Japanese market, Tucker appeared confident, saying its Japan sales had not been hurt by the quake.

Earlier this week Honda said workers at its plants in Japan will take 14 days off between June and August because of the continuing disruption caused by March's disaster.

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All production at the Saitama and Suzuka car plants, and part of production at the Hamamatsu motorcycle plant, will be shut down. The days will be recovered later in the year when Honda hopes to make up the production shortfall.

Earlier this month Nissan said production facilities disrupted by the Japanese earthquake will return to normal at least a month earlier than bigger rival Toyota recently predicted.

Nissan saw record car sales in the year to 31 March with a 36 per cent growth in sales in China. Sales in Europe grew by 19 per cent and by 17 per cent in the US. Nissan cited the introduction of ten new models this year as one of the reasons for the rise.