Ford Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields, in Shanghai to unveil the automaker’s plans to introduce more electrified models and pickup trucks in China, hailed the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping as a constructive step toward stronger ties.
“When you have two leaders meet face to face, they become people to each other,” Fields said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Saturday. “That’s a very firm foundation to then go off and make concrete advances to strengthen the ties between the two countries. I feel that’s very possible.”
Worsening relations between the U.S. and China would hurt companies like Ford, which is looking to sell more vehicles in the world’s largest auto market and recently announced it will build its luxury Lincoln brand in the Asian nation to tap growing demand.
In their public comments, the two presidents remarked generally about “progress” in their relationship and optimism about the future. That could indicate that the relationship between the two countries remains stable, despite Trump’s fiery accusations during his campaign, and afterward, that China has stolen U.S. manufacturing jobs.
On China’s policy of requiring foreign automakers to set up local joint ventures in order to manufacture vehicles and tariffs on imported cars, Fields said that tangible reforms and opening up are needed. The issue is bigger than the 50% limit on foreign ownership of the ventures, he said, and there’s the need to decrease policy uncertainties, boost business confidence and create equal opportunities for each nation at the same time.
Ford, which operates joint ventures in China with Chongqing Changan Automobile Co. and Jiangling Motors Corp., boosted sales by 14% to a record 1.27 million vehicles last year, in line with the industrywide growth rate.
“There’s huge, enormous mutual ties between the two countries from a trade standpoint,” Fields said before an event to outline Ford’s strategy to boost pickup sales in China. “We have to tread very carefully on that because the economic relationship is the basis of the overall relationship.”
Ford said on Thursday that it’s targeting for 70% of all Ford nameplates sold in China by 2025 to be part or fully electric. The company will introduce a plug-in hybrid and battery-electric SUV in China, and plans to manufacture electrified powertrains by 2020. The investments in electrification in China are part of efforts to position the automaker given the trend of stricter emission standards, Fields said.
Fields says he sees “huge opportunities” to increase pickup truck sales in China, which has been easing restrictions on pickup usage in city centers. The automaker is introducing its best-selling Built Ford Tough truck brand to the country and announced plans to start selling the Ford Ranger mid-size pickup there from 2018. The company’s F-150 Raptor SuperCrew will start from 499,800 yuan ($72,400).
“We see an unmet need in China for -- in the case of the Ranger -- a mid-sized pick-up truck that’s refined and stylish but also gets the job done in terms of durability and toughness and things in that nature,” Fields said. “We’ve seen probably three or four provinces that have adjusted and eased up on that. And the government is contemplating whether they soften some of the restrictions. We think that’s a big opportunity for us.”
The automaker also said it is introducing the FordPass mobility app that lets users search for parking spaces and find, unlock and remotely start their vehicles. The company will also invest 1.3 billion yuan in its research center in Nanjing to strengthen its engineering and vehicle-testing capabilities.