MUMBAI, India -- (ERIKA KINETZ, AP) Ford Motor Co. launched its first made-for-India compact car Tuesday, as the U.S. automaker continues its push into fast-growing Asian markets.
The four-door Figo, Italian for "cool," is the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker's first car designed -- and priced -- for the mass Indian market.
"Come heat, come dust, come monsoon rains or Delhi traffic, the Figo was born and bred for India," said Michael Boneham, president and managing director of Ford India.
As the global auto industry suffers, India has been enjoying an auto boom. An economic rebound, rising incomes and pent-up demand drove car sales to 1,370,659 vehicles from April to February, 25 percent more than during the same period the previous year.
WATCH Ford's promo video for the Figo:
Ford has ramped up investment in China and India, but has been slow to adjust to the proclivities of Indian carbuyers, three quarters of whom buy super-small, super-affordable cars.
The luxurious sedans Americans favor find little room on India's teeming streets, and they're priced stratospherically out of reach for a nation where the per capita income is about 43,750 rupees ($960).
The Figo is different.
Ford squeezed the car into a tiny frame – 3.8 meters (12.5 feet) by 1.7 meters (5.5 feet) – to ease its passage through the tide of bullock carts, angry taxis, handcarts, motorbikes and cows that clog city roads.
And they used easy-to-replace components, like bumpers, to handle the unavoidable dents and dings.
"The Figo team went to great lengths to ensure that key components are easily and affordably replaced," Boneham said.
The car also has extra durable lubricating and cooling systems, to deal with India's extreme heat and torrential rains.
But its most Indian feature of all is the price.
Starting at 349,900 ($7,690), the Figo is within reach of "Sandeep," Ford's vision of its archetypal consumer – a 27-year-old man, recently married and ambitious, with an income of 300,000 to 400,000 rupees ($6,000 to $8000) a year.
Sandeep may be budget conscious, but he's not without aspirations. Higher-end Figos come with keyless entry and Bluetooth connectivity.
Like other global auto majors, Ford also hopes to turn India into a small car export hub. Boneham said the Figo would first ship to South Africa.
"We'll be adding more markets as people across the region see how cool the Figo really is," he said.
Associated Press writer Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi contributed to this report.