Ford comes from behind in China to stun Japanese rivals

Reuters

By Norihiko Shirouzu

BEIJING, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co is poised toovertake its Japanese rivals on the top seller's list in Chinaas Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co struggle to regain market share following a flare-up inanti-Japanese sentiment a year ago.

For much of the past decade, the Dearborn, Michigan-basedautomaker has languished some way behind Japanese brands andSouth Korea's Hyundai Motor Co. And it has lagged along way behind General Motors Co and Volkswagen AG in China.

That's mainly because of Ford's late foray into China andthe subsequent, conservative approach it has taken in an automarket that became the world's biggest in 2009.

Ford is fighting to change that picture and appears likelyto sell more vehicles in China this year than two of its mainJapanese rivals - Toyota and Honda. Its China sales are alsozooming close to those of Nissan Motor Co.

Ford is likely to sell more than 900,000 vehicles, includingpassenger cars and commercial vehicles, in China this yearthanks to its beefed-up product lineup, said a company officialwho spoke on condition of anonymity. New in the showroom sincelast year are a couple of small sport-utility vehicles and theredesigned Focus car.

It has also just launched the redesigned Mondeo car, a Chinaversion of the car marketed in North America as the Fusion.

The American automaker sold 647,849 vehicles during thefirst nine months of the year, up 51 percent, Ford said in astatement on Wednesday.

"We should be able to sell more than 900,000 vehicles,possibly close to a million in China this year," the Fordofficial said.

Toyota is targeting to sell about 900,000 vehicles and Hondaabout 750,000 in China this year. China-based spokespeople atthe two firms said they were on track to meet those objectives.

Nissan is aiming to sell 1.25 million vehicles, but a Nissancompany executive speaking on condition of anonymity said lastmonth the company was "stretching to achieve" that goal.

The Japanese carmakers have, however, recorded a sharp risein year-on-year sales last month partly due to the low base fromlast September, when Japan's decision to nationalize disputedislands in the East China Sea sparked anti-Japan sentiment amongChinese consumers.

GM AND VW DOMINATE

Ford and the Japanese carmakers are still no match for thelikes of General Motors and Volkswagen.

GM Group expects to sell more than 3 million vehicles inChina this year. Its volume in China is forecast to grow 8 to 10percent over last year, when the U.S. group sold a total of 2.84million vehicles.

According to consulting firm LMC Automotive, the VolkswagenGroup is forecast to sell about 3.2 million vehicles this yearin China, up from 2.8 million vehicles it sold in 2012.

LMC says Hyundai Group's sales in China this year shouldreach 1.64 million vehicles, up from 1.4 million last year.

During the first nine months of this year, Toyota sold atotal of about 636,700 vehicles, down 0.5 percent from a yearearlier. Honda sold 497,261 vehicles, up 5.8 percent, whileNissan sold 885,700 vehicles, up 0.2 percent.

Since Ford began an aggressive push to overhaul and beef upits product lineup for China over the past two years, "saleshave been growing in leaps and bounds," said Yale Zhang, head ofShanghai-based consulting firm Automotive Foresight.

That momentum should not only remain intact for the rest ofthis year but should become "even stronger" next year andbeyond, Zhang said, adding that Ford expected to startproduction at a major assembly plant in the eastern city ofHangzhou around 2015.

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