Ford to Pull Back On Future Chinese Investments

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Ford will be scaling down future investments in China, as the company’s chief executive has suggested that there will be “no guarantee” Western automakers can compete with local electric-vehicle rivals. This should have been obvious to American manufacturers who have historically been required to engage in partnerships with Chinese corporations just to sell within the region. But it also speaks to hardships Ford has endured while trying to break into the market.

The Blue Oval had already hinted that its strategy in Asia would be changing, especially in regard to China. But there will still be a lot of holdover business, regardless of how much it wants to scale back investments. The company has joint-venture partnerships with Jiangling Motors Group, Changan, and Lin Ho, and shares eight factories between them.

It also recently announced the next-generation Lincoln Nautilus for North America would be exported from China, a first for Lincoln. Despite the promised decline in future investment, the company seems interested in making the Lincoln brand a popular luxury marquee, similar to what General Motors managed to do with Buick.

However, Chinese EVs are fairly dominant in Central Asia and Ford seems to believe trying to compete with domestic brands and burgeoning EV firms will be exceedingly difficult.

“If you just reinvest in a new cycle of EVs in China, there is no guarantee, or no data, that would suggest the western companies win,” CEO Jim Farley told the Financial Times in an interview.

“The winners in China [in EVs] turn out not to be the [traditional carmakers],” he continued. “It’s actually all the EV brands like BYD and Tesla, Great Wall, SAIC, and Changan, who are winning.”

This also ties into an earlier announcement made by Blue Oval that suggested it would begin focusing on commercial vehicles while paying attention to what other manufacturers are doing in terms of battery technology — to see what works in China before diving back into electrified passenger vehicles.

From FT:

Global carmakers have been losing ground to domestic rivals that offer cheaper or better electric vehicles, threatening profits in the market that has become a core business for manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz or General Motors.
Several carmakers such as VW have vowed to boost spending in the country to try to claw back market share, but Ford plans to take a different approach, Farley said.
“We have been for the last couple of years, really looking carefully at our China business,” Farley said. “And now we have made up our mind where our strategy is going to be, and it will be a much lower investment, more focused investment.”
He declined to comment on local reports on Monday that Ford was preparing to cut 1,300 jobs in the country.

Ford seems laser-focused on margins right now. It has already culled smaller vehicles from the home market because they were less profitable than large SUVs and pickup trucks and has been doing the same in Europe — seeking a leaner, more competitive cost structure with fewer employees.

There are two ways to look at this. Ford could be viewed as playing things smart during a time of economic uncertainty, noting that trade tensions between the United States and China continue to cause problems for the business on both sides of the Pacific. But it could also be seen as a company running scared and trying to rebound from a lackluster 2022 by cutting costs wherever possible. Still, even the less-flattering assessment might be the correct play to make.

[Image: Nick Shoe/Shutterstock]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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2 of 14 comments
  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on May 17, 2023

    Businessmen have been trying to get rich by selling (fill in the blank) to China for a couple centuries now, and it has never worked. It doesn't matter if it was an emperor, a republic, a military dictatorship, or the communist party, free enterprise and the rule of law are alien concepts there.

  • SPPPP SPPPP on May 19, 2023

    "Thanks so much for helping us get our auto parts industry off the ground. And now our auto final assembly industry too. Don't let the South China Sea hit you on the way out. Byeeeeee....."

  • Calrson Fan Jeff - Agree with what you said. I think currently an EV pick-up could work in a commercial/fleet application. As someone on this site stated, w/current tech. battery vehicles just do not scale well. EBFlex - No one wanted to hate the Cyber Truck more than me but I can't ignore all the new technology and innovative thinking that went into it. There is a lot I like about it. GM, Ford & Ram should incorporate some it's design cues into their ICE trucks.
  • Michael S6 Very confusing if the move is permanent or temporary.
  • Jrhurren Worked in Detroit 18 years, live 20 minutes away. Ren Cen is a gem, but a very terrible design inside. I’m surprised GM stuck it out as long as they did there.
  • Carson D I thought that this was going to be a comparison of BFGoodrich's different truck tires.
  • Tassos Jong-iL North Korea is saving pokemon cards and amibos to buy GM in 10 years, we hope.