January 13, 2020 / 1:52 AM / 6 days ago

Ford's China vehicle sales drop 26% in third straight year of decline

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co’s (F.N) China vehicle sales fell for a third consecutive year, by 26.1%, as it battles a prolonged overall sales decline in its second-biggest market that has hit demand for its mass-market Ford brand and sports utility vehicles.

The U.S. automaker delivered 146,473 vehicles in China in the fourth quarter, down 14.7% year-on-year, Ford said in a statement. In total, it sold 567,854 vehicles over 2019.

Ford has been trying to revive sales in China after its business began slumping in late 2017. Sales sank 37% in 2018, after a 6% decline in 2017.

Anning Chen, president and chief executive of Ford Greater China, said that while 2019 was a “challenging” year for the automaker, it saw its market share in the high-to-premium segment stabilize and its sales decline in the value segment start to narrow in the second-half of the year.

“The pressure from the external environment and downward trend of the industry volume will continue in 2020, and we will put more efforts into strengthening our product lineup with more customer-centric products and customer experiences to mitigate the external pressure and improve dealers’ profitability.”

The automaker plans to launch more than 30 new models in China over the next three years of which over a third will be electric vehicles. It has also said it would localize management teams by hiring more Chinese staff and aimed to improve relationships with joint venture partners.

Models launched in the fourth quarter include a new Ford Escape version - for which the automaker said orders received so far have been much higher than expected - and the Lincoln Corsair, the first localized Lincoln model in China.

Bill Russo, head of Shanghai consultancy Automobility Ltd, said Ford was dealing with a “perfect storm” of trends which were not favorable to multinational mass market brands, and while the automaker was addressing the need to update its showrooms with new and refreshed models, this was taking time.

“They managed to stop the bleeding and increase average selling price,” he said of their 2019 sales figures. “Good sign, but they need to do more to localize their business model to address the growth in non-hardware related mobility and digital services if they are to recapture growth.”

In China, Ford makes cars through a joint venture with Chongqing Changan Automobile Co Ltd (000625.SZ) and Jiangling Motors Corp Ltd (JMC) (000550.SZ). It has also said it would partner Zotye Automobile Co Ltd (000980.SZ) to sell lower priced cars.

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Its larger U.S. rival General Motors Co (GM.N) last week said its sales in China fell 15% from a year earlier to 3.09 million vehicles in 2019, its second year of decline.

China’s auto market is set to contract by 2% in 2020 for the third year of decline, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) forecast, due to a weaker economy and trade dispute with the United States.

Over 28 million vehicles were sold in 2018, down 3% from the prior year, while 2019 sales are likely to have declined 8% from the prior year, CAAM said.

Reporting by Brenda Goh and Yilei Sun; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Christopher Cushing

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