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Ford Motor To Cease Operations In India: What Happens Next?

Ford Motor To Cease Operations in India: What Happens Next?

“To continue investing … we needed to show a path for a reasonable return on investment,” Ford India head Anurag Mehrotra told reporters last week. “Unfortunately, we are not able to do that,” Anurag concludes. 


Ford India Private Limited announced on 9 September 2021, their intent to shut down their two manufacturing plants located in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and Sanand, Gujarat. Their decision to move out of the Indian market comes with a heavy heart. After sinking $2.5 billion in India since entry and burning another $2 billion over the past decade alone, Ford decided not to invest more. 

Ford Motors’ venture into India was not easy, especially being one of the first multinational automobile companies entering into the Indian market and their journey was neither smooth with tough competition from companies such as Japan’s Suzuki Motor Corp. and South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. Surprisingly, they were not the only global automobile corporations that have found it difficult to sustain India’s automobile market which is the fourth largest in the world based upon production statistics of 2017. In fact, Ford’s American rival General Motors (GM) and the American motorcycle company Harley-Davidson are also on the list of global companies that have ceased manufacturing in India.

Factors Contributing To Ford India’s Closure

Some of the key factors were:

  • Failure to adapt to the Indian Consumers’ Portfolio

Indian consumers prefer small, cheap, fuel-efficient cars that could bump over uneven roads without needing expensive repairs. In India, 95% of cars are priced below $20,000.”The struggle for many global brands has always been meeting India’s price point because they brought global products that were developed for mature markets at a high-cost structure,” commented analyst Ammar Master at LMC Automotive. 

An automobile industry expert from India who prefers annonymity,  pointed out that Ford did not fully customize its car platforms. India is a right-hand drive market whereas in the US it is left-hand drive.  The expert adds, “Some of the Ford India’s car models, the owner-driver, had to get down, go around the vehicle, open the left side door to unlock the boot, certainly a tedious affair,” the expert explained. 

  • Difficult Market for Global Brands

Some of Ford’s missteps can be traced to when it drove into India in the mid-1990s. While Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and Hyundai Motor India Ltd cashed in on launching new models at different price points, Ford and General Motors failed to do so as they didn’t have a small car in their global portfolio. Ford mentioned that it had considered bringing more models to India but determined it could not do so profitably. 

In addition, an automobile industry expert from India pointed out that Ford did not fully customize its car platforms. India is a right-hand drive market whereas in the US it is a left-hand drive. As such, “Some of the Ford India’s car models, the owner-driver, had to get down, go around the vehicle, open the left side door to unlock the boot, certainly a tedious affair,” the expert explained. 

Hence, as a whole, “U.S. manufacturers with large truck DNAs struggled to create a good and profitable small vehicle. Nobody got the product quite right and losses piled up,” said Ravi Bhati, President of JATO Dynamics Ltd.

While India’s auto market has been described as tough to crack, Hyundai subsidiary Kia Motors and China’s MG Motor are among the exceptions, having made significant inroads over the last couple of years.

  • Demand Has Been Muted

Auto sales have registered a combined annual growth rate of just 1.5 per cent in India over the past five years, upsetting the plans of MNCs who have heavily invested in the Indian markets. In conjunction with the Indian market’s downturn, the automobile industry demand for combustion vehicles, in general, is declining due to the transition towards an all-electric future. 

“The industry has been witnessing comparatively slower growth in the last 18 months… There have been a lot of statements about the importance of the automobile industry, but in terms of concrete action, which would reverse the decline, I haven’t seen any action on the ground. I don’t think the car industry would revive either with ICEs, or with the CNG, biofuels or EVs unless we address the question of affordability of cars for the consumers,” Maruti Suzuki chairman R C Bhargava had said.

Therefore, a combination of factors snowballed over 25 years with the pandemic last year, exacerbating the economic losses to a point of no return.

Ford considered several options in India, including partnerships, platform sharing and contract manufacturing with other carmakers before deciding to shut down factories in India.

What Is Next?

  1. For Ford India Employees

“The company has to export about 30,000 cars by the end of this year. So, the management has cajoled the workers to restart production while holding talks relating to the plant closure,” another worker told IANS preferring anonymity.

According to Ford India, about 4,000 employees are expected to be affected by its decision. The union officials are also studying the settlement packages offered by other companies and to avoid other pitfalls so that they can secure a good compensation package if they are not able to protect their jobs.

       2.  For India and automobile industry competitors

The retreat by Ford is a further blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make-in-India program, which encourages companies to manufacture locally. Tesla Inc. has urged Modi’s administration to allow it to import cars more cheaply before it commits to setting up a factory in the country.

According to Vahishta Unwalla, Lead Analyst-Industry Research Team, Care Ratings Ltd, companies in the utility vehicle space like Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai Motor, Kia Motors India Pvt Ltd and Tata Motors Ltd shall benefit by the exit of Ford India. She adds that since Ford India is not a major player in any car segment,  its absence will not result in any substantial windfall for other players.

More updates on Ford can be found https://corporate.ford.com/

References of Content:

[1] What the exit of Ford Motor Company from India tells us by MG Arun, India Today
[2]
Ford Motor Company bails on India, will shut car factories there    by Ragini Saxena and Keith Naughton (Bloomberg)
[3] Ford motor to cease local production in india shut down both plants report by Pranav Mukul
[4] What went wrong with Ford in India and who will benefit from its exit? by IANS, Chennai


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