BEIJING -- Ford Motor Co. is reaping big profits in its home market today, but the company is betting on Asia -- a region where it trails rivals -- to drive long-term growth.
Joe Hinrichs, 43, who heads Ford's Asia Pacific and Africa operations, says his business is small compared with Ford's footprint in Europe and the Americas.
But Ford invested $3.5 billion in his region -- which includes China, the world's biggest auto market, and rapidly growing India -- over the past three years to change that.
"The majority of our growth over the next 5 to 10 years will come from our region," Hinrichs, who is based in Shanghai, said in an interview at the Beijing auto show.
Ford was a latecomer to China and trails competitors there, including General Motors, Volkswagen, Toyota and Hyundai. Ford sold 440,000 vehicles in China last year, compared with 1.83 million sold by GM, now China's biggest automaker.
In the first quarter, Ford sales in China rose 84 percent to 153,362, outpacing a market that was up 71 percent.
Ford is opening an assembly plant in China with local joint-venture partner Changan Automotive Co. And the company will add 70 dealers in China this year to boost its retail network to 350 stores.
In India, Ford's sales tripled in March compared with a year earlier. It is targeting 200 dealers there by year end, up from 136 at the end of 2009.
Ford doubled capacity at its Indian plant in Chennai last year to launch the Figo small car.
Ford last week reported a $2.1 billion net profit in the first quarter. But the Asia Pacific and Africa operations added the smallest operating profit, generating $23 million, compared with North America's $1.2 billion.
Hinrichs took over the company's Asia and Africa regions in November after heading Ford's global manufacturing. He said Ford had neglected Asia and Africa over the past five years as it grappled with averting bankruptcy, selling off brands, developing the One Ford global brand strategy, and surviving the global financial crisis.
"We had a few things going on," Hinrichs said. "Now we are turning a lot more of our corporate resources and attention to this market."