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by Tim Beissmann

Production of Australia’s Ford Focus will switch from Germany to a brand-new plant in Thailand from the middle of this year.

Ford officially opened the US$450 million ($437 million) Ford Thailand Manufacturing (FTM) facility in Rayong on Wednesday and will begin production of the Focus small car at the plant from June.

Ford Australia’s Sinead Phipps said the local brand expected to start seeing the new Thai-sourced Focus models in showrooms in late July or August.

Earlier this year, Ford Australia told CarAdvice the specifications and trim quality of the Thai-sourced Focus models would be similar to those that have been imported from Germany since the third-generation model launched here in August 2011.

The production shift will also see the introduction of Ford’s more advanced Sync voice-activated connectivity system to the Focus range.

Although the fair trade agreement that exists between Thailand and Australia will make the Focus cheaper for Ford Australia to import, Phipps said any price or specification changes would be driven by the Focus’s competitors rather than the change to the import tariff.

Phipps said Ford Australia would announce exact pricing and specification details closer to the arrival of the first customer cars in the third quarter of this year.

While the regular Focus range will be produced in Thailand, Phipps confirmed the high-performance Focus ST would still be sourced from the Saarlouis plant in Germany when it is launched here late this year.

The 200,000 square metre FTM plant has an initial production capacity of 150,000 vehicles per year. It is the blue oval’s second production plant in Thailand, joining the AutoAlliance Thailand facility that produces the Australian-designed Ranger and Fiesta city car. The new plant takes Ford’s annual Thai production capacity to 445,000, making it the one of the largest vehicle producers and exporters in the country.

Ford Asia Pacific and Africa president Joe Hinrichs says the versatile FTM plant will serve as the foundation for Ford’s plan to introduce eight all-new global ‘One Ford’ vehicles to the ASEAN region by mid-decade.

“The opening of this new, world-class facility is the latest example in our aggressive growth plan for this region, which represents Ford’s largest industrial expansion in half a century,” Hinrichs said.

“The world-class One Ford vehicles produced here will be part of our plan to launch 50 new vehicles and powertrains in Asia Pacific and Africa by mid-decade.”

Ford says the new FTM facility has the potential to support up to 11,000 new jobs – including 2200 jobs directly at the plant and 8800 indirectly through its supplier and dealer networks. Around 1600 are already on-site preparing for the start of production.

Read CarAdvice’s reviews of the Ford Focus.