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Ford hires new China chief to tackle daunting turnaround task

Anning Chen will take the helm from Nov 1.


FORD Motor Co has hired a new chief for its troubled China operations, ending a nine-month search after the previous head suddenly quit and tasking him with fixing a deep sales slump in the world's biggest car market.

Anning Chen, 57, a former Ford engineer and chairman of Chery Jaguar Land Rover in China, will take the helm from Nov 1. The American national who was born in China is fluent in Chinese and has roughly 14 years experience of working in the country.

The move, which cements a shift to Chinese management in the country for Ford, comes at a pivotal time with sales sliding on the lack of a popular SUV for the market as well as rocky relationships with its Chinese joint venture partners. "Getting a local person in this role is a good move. This will likely give Ford a better understanding of the market," said Bill Russo, head of Shanghai consultancy Automobility Ltd.

Ford's vehicle sales fell 43 per cent in September from a year earlier and are down 30 per cent in the first nine months of the year. Ford blames its weak China business on an ageing model line-up that is awaiting an overhaul. By comparison, industry-wide sales are up 1.5 per cent for the year to date with rival Toyota Motor Corp logging a 12.5 per cent gain.

China represents Ford's second-biggest market by sales volume but in the second quarter the automaker booked a pre-tax loss of US$483 million for its operations there. Executives have noted the combination of lower prices and falling sales, particularly in the hot crossover and SUV market, had hit the company hard.

Ford was due to report third-quarter earnings later on Wednesday.

Mr Chen's appointment comes as Ford restructures operations worldwide, and its China business will now become stand-alone business unit, reporting directly to global headquarters. Mr Chen will report to Jim Farley, president of global markets.

"China is absolutely essential to Ford's profitability and growth," Mr Farley said in a statement, adding the new structure would help the China operation be "more fit as a business, increase our decision-making speed and be closer to our customers."

Mr Chen's predecessor Jason Luo - also brought in to turn around the business - resigned abruptly in January this year after roughly five months in the job.

Industry insiders said Mr Chen's arrival would help Ford in the market - including mending bridges with its partners Changan Automobile Group and Jiangling Motors Group - but that success was no sure thing.

Tensions in Ford's China partnerships have hurt the morale of the joint ventures' sales forces, especially after the US automaker tried to streamline its two separate brand identities and its dual distribution systems, sources have previously said.

Jiangling Motors said it welcomed the appointment. "We are very pleased to see that Ford is paying more and more attention to the Chinese market and better implementing its 'In China, for China' strategy," a spokesman for the company told Reuters.

Other appointments this year that have brought in Chinese expertise include naming Henry Li, a former senior sales executive at Mercedes, as vice president for sales and marketing in China.

Mao Jingbo became chief of Lincoln Asia-Pacific and China after serving at Mercedes' Chinese operations for more than 10 years, while Richard Chen, a former Key Safety Systems executive, became Ford's vice president of strategy and partnership for Greater China. REUTERS

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