• The Associated Press

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Although it is struggling with financial trouble, U.S. automaker Ford remains committed to investing in new products and technology, a senior executive said Friday.

“Despite the difficult times at Ford, we think it’s extremely important to invest in the product,” said Susan Cischke, vice president overseeing environmental and safety engineering at Ford Motor Co.

Cischke, in Japan to speak at a symposium, told a small group of reporters at a Tokyo hotel that Ford sees ecological technology as crucial, including more efficient gas engines, hybrids that deliver better mileage, and the more futuristic fuel-cell vehicles.

Ford, which has been struggling to turn around its business, racked up a $5.8 billion loss for the July-September quarter due to sagging North American sales and huge costs associated with a massive restructuring plan. It was the largest quarterly loss in more than 14 years for Ford, the second-biggest U.S. automaker, after General Motors Corp.

Ford has been losing market share in the North American market to Japanese carmakers offering an array of hybrids and compacts.

But it is seeing strong sales growth in China, where its vehicle sales more than doubled to 114,685 units in the first three quarters of this year from 55,807 in the same period last year.

Ford signaled its commitment to the Chinese market with an announcement Thursday that it plans to build a new plant in eastern China with Japanese affiliate Mazda Motor Corp. and local partner Changan Automotive Group. The plant, set to start operations next year, will produce up to 160,000 vehicles a year.

Ford Chairman William Clay Ford said Thursday during a visit to Beijing that Ford expects to buy more than $2.6 billion worth of auto parts in China for overseas use this year, up 63 percent from 2005, company spokesman Kenneth Hsu said.

Cischke meanwhile acknowledged that fuel economy was becoming more important for consumers, and Ford lagged behind rivals in offering the right mix of fuel-efficient models.

Worries have been growing that Ford could face a cash squeeze before the savings benefits kick in from job cuts, plant closures and other parts of its restructuring plan.

Cischke was upbeat about prospects for Ford’s revival plan under its new chief executive, Alan Mulally, a former Boeing Co. executive who took office about a month ago.

“It’s very exciting times for us at Ford,” she said.

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