BEIJING (Reuters) - After 20-odd years of “marriage” in China, Ford Motor Co is having relationship issues.
The U.S. automaker, losing ground in the world’s largest car market, is trying to maintain trust and respect in its partnerships with Changan Automobile Group and Jiangling Motors Group (JMC), putting pressure on sales efforts, according to four sources at Ford and its China joint ventures.
“Changan and Ford have already been married for (nearly two decades) but we still don’t trust each other,” one of the sources said.
In an effort to improve relations and reverse a recent sales slump, Ford is preparing for a new product blitz and a campaign to localize management in China, according to Peter Fleet, head of Ford’s Asia-Pacific operations.
Ford sales fell 6 percent last year even as overall vehicle sales in China rose 3 percent. Sales during the first two months of this year are down 23 percent.
Fleet said the company was looking beyond the sales numbers to focus on “structural priorities”.
“I think our partnerships are in good shape, and I want them to be even better,” Fleet said in an interview with Reuters.
It will likely take Ford until next year, when the first of the wave of new vehicles arrives in showrooms, to start regaining momentum in China.
“This year will be a bit like going through a tunnel,” Fleet said. “We have to get through 2018.”
By 2025, however, Fleet says the U.S. automaker plans to boost China revenue by 50 percent from 2017 levels, largely by launching more than 50 new or redesigned products. Those new cars include 15 electric vehicles.
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Over the past 12-18 months, tensions in Ford’s China partnerships began impacting the morale of the joint ventures’ sales forces, made up mostly of local workers from its Chinese partners, according to three of the sources - a Changan official and two Ford China insiders. The sources declined to be named because they are not authorized to speak to reporters.
Morale sank especially after Ford tried to streamline its two separate brand identities and its dual distribution systems, those sources said.
“At Changan-Ford, Ford often tries to intrude far into our territory; they’re interventionist and are most aggressive among global automakers at trying to have their say on how we run our day-to-day activities,” the Changan official said. “That makes our job sometimes difficult.”
Low morale in the auto business often has a direct correlation with sales volume, as it affects the determination of an auto brand’s sales team to sell more cars.
A spokeswoman for the Changan-Ford joint venture, Jia Qun, said the relationship between Changan and Ford is in good shape.
“Last year, our two parent companies said we