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Ford names new China head to tackle daunting turnaround task
[BEIJING] 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. An American national, he has roughly 14 years' experience of working in China.
The move comes at a pivotal time for Ford which has struggled to turn around a sharp slide in China sales this year, hurt by lack of local leadership and 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 lineup 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.
The appointment comes as Ford restructures operations worldwide and the US carmaker said its China business will now become standalone 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".
China is Ford's second-biggest market by sales volume, behind the United States.
Mr Chen's predecessor Jason Luo - also brought in to turn around the business - resigned abruptly in January this year after leading the US carmaker's China operations for roughly five months.
Industry insiders said Mr Chen's arrival would help Ford in the market - including mending bridges with its partners in the market 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 carmaker 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 said in a text message to Reuters.