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Ford keeps pushing for lighter cars despite oil price fall

Ford keeps pushing for lighter cars despite oil price fall

By Martin Dokoupil

Reuters

Ford’s drive to make its sport utility vehicles (SUV) and other models lighter to save fuel and boost performance will not be delayed by a recent drop in oil prices, Executive Chairman Bill Ford said on Wednesday.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker this month started production of a redesigned, aluminium-intensive F-150 full-size pickup truck — its key profit generator. It has said it could incorporate more of the light metal into its models in the future.

Asked whether a plunge in oil prices — Brent fell to more than a four-year low of below $77 per barrel last week — gave the company second thoughts about all the investment to make pickup trucks lighter, Ford told Reuters: “No, not at all.”

“I think our customers … will find a better truck because of it, not just a more fuel-efficient truck,” he said, standing next to a bright yellow Ford Mustang GT convertible on the 112th floor of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, in Dubai.

“And on other products, we will continue to lightweight but it won’t only be aluminium. We will be using other materials as well that will lightweight our vehicles,” he said.

The F-150, the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. market for 32 straight years, has contributed the lion’s share of Ford’s global pretax profit, and its latest launch is closely watched by analysts and investors.

Ford is in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic Mustang sports car, which was cut in six pieces and taken up by lifts to be reassembled at an outside terrace of the Dubai skyscraper.

The carmaker is betting on future growth in oil wealthy Gulf Arab countries, where low, subsidized petrol prices fuel sales of gas-guzzling SUVs, planning to bring 25 new products to the Middle East in the next two years.

The UAE, the second largest Arab economy after Saudi Arabia, is the biggest market for Mustang cars outside of North America. The new F-150 is expected to head to the region in early 2015 after the December sale launch in North America.

Asked whether it made sense for the company to set up a new assembly plant in the Middle East or North Africa, Ford said: “Perhaps but it is too early for us to make that determination. We are certainly looking at it.”

Industry sales in the Middle East and Africa are expected to soar 40 percent to 5.5 million vehicles by 2020, the carmaker expects.

Ford, unlike rival General Motors , does not plan to set up a formal corporate venture fund to invest in cutting-edge future mobility technologies, but rather will continue investing through a private venture capital fund with several partners.

“We certainly looked at going that route but I think it is absolutely a wrong thing to do,” Ford said, adding that venture capital firms he visited in Silicon Valley pointed out to him that almost all venture capital effort by a corporation fails.

“I believe our role is best as a quick adaptor of new technology, to be very nimble, to realize who’s the best out there, who’s newest to market and then go with them,” he said.