PARIS – Ford of Europe introduces its redesigned flagship family car, the Mondeo, here at the Paris auto show, suggesting continued sales momentum ignited by its S-Max peoplemover, executives say.

The debut also marks a milestone for the auto maker’s assembly plant in Genk, Belgium, which was hit by 3,000 job reductions when Ford moved production of its high-volume Transit Van to Turkey in 2004.

At that time, Ford promised Genk workers they would get to build three new vehicles. Production of the S-Max and a redesigned version of the Ford Galaxy minivan began at Genk March 6 and April 10, respectively.

“Mondeo is the last part of our promise to everyone at Genk,” declares Ford of Europe President John Fleming as the sheet is lifted from a Mondeo wagon – one of three body styles under the storied nameplate.

The first Mondeo pilot vehicle rolled off the line Sept. 26. Full production begins Feb. 19 with the 5-door version, says Guy Martens, the plant’s operations manager. Serial output of the wagons and 4-door Mondeos is set for March 19.

The startup of Mondeo production will push Genk’s capacity utilization to more than 100%, says Stephen Odell, vice president-marketing, sales and service.

The plant can build close to 240,000 vehicles annually, at a maximum line rate of about 1,140 units per day, Martens tells journalists earlier in the week during a media tour of the refurbished facility.

Already, Genk suppliers are being tested with the S-Max introduction, a side effect of Ford’s flexible manufacturing strategy noted here by Fleming when he unveiled a concept expected to inspire the auto maker’s first made-for-Europe cross/utility vehicle, the Iosis X.

More than 50% of S-Max buyers are opting for the high-range Titanium edition and options such as a panoramic roof and Bluetooth connectivity.

“We’re only this month launching (the S-Max) in nine of our 25 markets, so it’s still being introduced,” Odell tells Ward’s, listing Germany, Spain, France, Italy and the U.K. among them.

“The good news for us is the high-series Titanium, which we had forecasted around 35%-40%, is 70%,” he says. “That’s stretched the capacity of the supply base. So there is a waiting list for high-series vehicles.”

The other good news for Ford is that 50% of S-Max buyers are new to the brand. “Some of them are coming out of sub-premium or premium cars,” Odell says.

Meanwhile, Fleming projects continued profitability for Ford of Europe, which has bucked the downward trend that has plagued the auto maker’s North American operations.

“We have made a higher profit in each of the past two years – and intend to make that three in a row in 2006,” Fleming says, noting sales growth in Russia and Turkey, in particular, have had a significant impact on the auto maker’s performance.

Through August, Ford’s Western European market share was 8.7%, down 0.2 percentage points. However, it’s up when results from Russia are factored in, Odell says.

emayne@wardsauto.com