BEIJING / SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Ford Motor Co. ( FN ) has recruited a new boss for his turbulent China operation and completed a nine-month search after the previous head suddenly quit and urged him to fix a deep drop in sales in the world's largest car market.
PHOTO PHOTO: Chery Automobile Co. Ltd, Managing Director Chen Anning, participates in an interview with Reuters in Shanghai, China, August 23, 201
Anning Chen, 57, a former Ford engineer and Chery Chairman Jaguar Land Rover in China, taking the helm from November 1st. An American citizen, he has about 14 years of experience working in China.
The move comes in a significant time for Ford who has struggled to turn a sharp glide in China sales this year, damaged 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, which will probably give Ford a better understanding of the market," said Bill Russo, head of Shanghai Consultancy Automobility Ltd.
Ford's sales sales fell 43 percent in September of the previous year and are down 30 percent in the first nine months of the year. Ford owes its weak China business to an aging model model awaiting overhaul.
By comparison, the industry's wide sales increase by 1.5 percent this year with competitor Toyota Motor Corp. 7203.T ) Logging a 12.5 percent gain.
The appointment comes as Ford restructures operations around the world and the US automator says that China business will now become a stand-alone business unit that reports directly to the global Headquarters. Chen will report to Jim Farley, President of Global Markets.
"China is vital to Ford's profitability and growth," Farley said in a statement. Adding the new structure will help China operations to be "more suitable as a business, increase decision-making process and be closer to our customers."
China is Ford's second largest market by sales volume, behind the United States.
Chen's predecessor Jason Luo – also brought in to reverse business – abruptly resigned in January this year after leading the US automaker's China business for about five months.
Industry insiders said that Chen's arrival would help Ford in the market – including bridging with its partners in the Changan Automobile Group and Jiangling Motors Group but that success was uncertain.
Tensions in the Ford China Partnership have damaged the morale of joint ventures, especially after the US automaker has attempted to streamline its two distinct brand identities and its two distribution systems, as sources have previously said.
Jiangling Motors said it welcomed the agreement.
"We're very excited to see that Ford is paying more and more attention to the Chinese market and better implementing its China strategy for China," said a spokesman for the company in a text message to Reuters.
Reporting of Yilei Sun and Adam Jourdan; Additional Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Edwina Gibbs Editing