Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Alan Mulally unveils the company’s new low-cost small car for India, called the Figo, at a news conference in Delhi Wednesday, signaling the auto maker’s intention to compete in India’s largest and most-important small-car segment.

Up to now, details of the anticipated small car have been a closely guarded secret.

The 4-door subcompact hatch will be built at Ford’s manufacturing facility near Chennai, which is undergoing a $500 million expansion as part of the U.S. auto maker’s 3-year plan to transform its Indian operations into a global-production hub for engines and small cars and a regional center for small-car engineering.

The Figo, whose name is colloquial Italian for “cool,” Ford says in a statement, will see a 2010 production launch. It is expected to be priced below $10,000, which positions it as an affordable alternative to Ford’s premium-priced Fiesta. In India, the Figo is expected to compete with other small city cars, such as the Suzuki Alto.

“We believe (the) Ford Figo is a big game-changer for Ford that will help transform our brand into a volume player in India,” Ford India President and Managing Director Michael Boneham says in the statement.

Ford says the Figo also will be exported. The plant is being groomed to produce diesel and gasoline engines for local vehicle production and export within the Asia/Pacific and Africa region.

Ford Motor India Ltd. has doubled production capacity to 200,000 units annually at its Chennai operation in anticipation of the new small car and is introducing major advances in high-quality automation and innovative, eco-friendly production techniques. It also is adding a new diesel-engine plant.

“Our exciting new Ford Figo shows how serious we are about India,” Mulally says in a statement. “It reflects our commitment to compete with great products in all segments of this car market. We are confident the Ford Figo will be a product Indian consumers really want and value.”

Ford says India’s small-car segment accounts for more than 70% of the new-vehicle market.

The Figo leverages Ford’s small-car platform, sharing underlying technology with the Ford Fiesta, already familiar to Indian drivers, Ford Motor Co. of Australia Ltd. says in a statement.

The Australian subsidiary says it provided design and engineering knowledge for the car, which it suggests could become one of the biggest-selling vehicles in Ford’s global lineup.

The auto maker says the Figo’s contemporary styling is a distinctive alternative to traditional brands in the segment. Kinetic design touches include modern headlamps and grille, a sculpted hood, subtle integrated spoiler and chamfered window shape at the rear.

The Figo also features sculpted shapes to the body-side chiseled front fenders, a “comet tail” undercut in the doors and additional light-catching sculpting in the lower body side.

The Age newspaper in Melbourne quotes Ford Australia as saying the Figo is a key export earner for Australia.

“We might not be exporting the actual vehicle, but the talent we have in Australia is playing a global role in the Ford world,’’ say Sinead McAlary, Ford Australia communications manager.

The Figo was tested extensively both in India and at Ford’s proving ground in the Australian state of Victoria, as well as on Australia’s public roads.

The Age says the Figo is the next step in Ford Australia's plan to set itself up as a key pillar in Ford's global-development team. The subsidiary recently designed a sedan version of the Fiesta and is working on an all-new small pickup truck (codenamed T6) to be sold throughout the world.

“It's very exciting for Ford Australia,” McAlary says. “It's another example of how the experienced team here can be involved in developing projects not just for Australia but the Asia/Pacific region.”