Ford will have to reshape its brand if it’s to succeed in China, the world’s largest car market, the American auto giant’s chief executive Jim Farley has admitted.
“We’re going to have to rethink what the Ford brand means in a place like China,” Farley told reporters in Detroit, speaking on the sidelines of a charity event. “It can’t be like middle of the market. It’s totally over-filled.”
Ford-brand sales were down in China in the first quarter, along with sales and market share for other established, global automakers as sales of battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles boomed, led by China’s BYD.
Farley, who had just returned from a trip to China, said it was notable the only premium brands succeeding in China were all-electric from the start, with a focus on technology, the “digital experience” of drivers and services.
He mentioned domestic players Xpeng, Nio and Li Auto as companies that were getting it right. Even state-owned automakers in China had created new brands for EVs, he said.
“The differentiation really comes down to technology and services,” he said.
“They’re all beautiful. All of these vehicles are so beautiful. Go to China.”
Farley said Chinese automakers also faced intense competition in the market for two-row, SUV-styled electric vehicles, a segment where Tesla also competes with the Model Y.
“The have so much overcapacity in the two-door crossover that the amount of money those companies are losing and burning is incredible,” he said of the Chinese brands.
“That’s why they’re going big on Europe. Europe is a premium export market. They’re all going there.”
Farley Praise for BYD
Farley, who appeared by video at the Shanghai auto show this week, said BYD, which sells the most-popular EV in China and dominates the market for EVs and plug-in hybrids, had a singular lead in controlling all the key elements in its supply chain.
“There is one huge company that is so impressive, BYD. They’re in a totally different world than Tesla,” he said.
“They’re totally vertically integrated, completely, all the way to batteries. No one is doing that on the globe.”
BYD used this week’s Shanghai auto show to unveil an entry-level EV dubbed the Seagull that shocked analysts and industry executives with its combination of design, battery range and price.
The entry-level hatchback will start from 78,000 yuan ($11,300), a sharp discount from EV global brands’ prices.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara