By Chijioke Ohuocha*
LAGOS (Reuters) - Ford Motor Company <F.N> will start assembling its best-selling Ford Ranger pickup truck in Nigeria by the fourth quarter, as it expands in Africa and the Middle East, the U.S. automaker said on Tuesday.
The Nigerian assembly plant, in partnership with Ford dealer Coscharis Motors Limited, is the first outside South Africa, where Ford produces the Ranger for 148 markets.
"Nigeria is a priority market for us in sub-Saharan Africa," said Jeff Nemeth, the president and CEO of Ford Motor Company's business in sub-Saharan Africa.
"Depending on how Nigeria develops over time ... we are potentially looking at using our Nigerian plant to service West Africa," he told Reuters.
The auto market in Africa's biggest economy has huge potential but retails only a small amount of new vehicles annually, Nemeth said.
Ford produces 85,000 units each year in South Africa, which are sold across 24 African countries.
"It would take between 1 to 2 months to take an order, build it and deliver it within the country. If you order from overseas it would take between 4 to 6 months," Nemeth said, noting that the benefit of the Nigerian plant was being close to its customers.