Ford India sorry for women gagged in car ads

Ford India has apologised for a series of advertisements featuring caricatures of bound and gagged women in the boot of a Figo car driven by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The advertisements for the best-selling hatchback, created by the Indian unit of global advertising giant JWT, appeared on the website "Ads of the World" although Ford says they were not meant for commercial use.

They appeared online over the weekend, reportedly without Ford's approval, at a time when India is under fire for its treatment and portrayal of women following a series of sexual assaults.

One advert showed three scantily-clad women in the boot of the car with a smiling Berlusconi flashing a peace sign at the wheel, above the tagline: "Leave your worries behind with Figo's extra-large boot".

Another featured a Paris Hilton-like caricature in the driver's seat with US celebrity Kim Kardashian and two other women gagged in the boot.

A third advert shows Michael Schumacher with F1 rivals Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso gagged in the back.

"We deeply regret this incident and agree with our agency partners that it should have never happened," Ford said in a statement emailed to AFP.

"The posters are contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within Ford and our agency partners."

The auto firm, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford Motor, said it was "reviewing approval and oversight processes" to ensure that "nothing like this ever happens again".

The WPP Group, which owns JWT, said the adverts were never meant for paid publication and "should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the Internet".

A group statement said this was the result of individuals acting without proper oversight, and that appropriate actions had been taken.

"We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within WPP Group," the statement said.

Ford, which has a small share of India's passenger car market, has announced aggressive plans to launch at least eight new cars by the mid-decade.

The fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi in December has led to deep soul-searching over endemic sex crime, resulted in new tougher laws to punish rapists, and focused global attention on violence against women in India.

The gang-rape of a Swiss cyclist this month again highlighted the dangers while a British woman suffered leg injuries last week as she escaped her hotel over fears of a sex attack by the manager.