Ford appoints new CEO in China, creates Ford China unit

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. is creating a new business unit for its operations in China — and will appoint a Chinese national as the president and CEO starting Nov. 1, the automaker announced Tuesday.

Anning Chen has been named new CEO of Ford China

Anning Chen will take the helm of Ford China after nearly a 10-month search. The Blue Oval's last CEO there, Jason Luo, resigned in January after only six months, citing unspecified "personal reasons that predate his time at Ford." Peter Fleet, president of Ford's Asia Pacific operations, assumed the CEO responsibilities for the last 10 months.

Fleet will oversee a new International Markets business unit comprised of Ford's Asia Pacific businesses outside of China, the company said Tuesday. All business in China will now fall under Ford China, and Chen, 57, will report to Jim Farley, Ford president of global markets.

Chen's hiring comes as CEO Jim Hackett pushes his executive team to grow Ford's footprint in China, the company's No. 2 market behind the United States. After larger-than-expected losses in China this year, Ford is launching several new vehicles there, is intensifying localization of some 90,000 Ford- and Lincoln-brand vehicles imported from the United States, and is pushing to localize Ford’s leadership in China. That included the hiring of the new CEO and reorganization of the businesses in Asia.

"Success in China is critical as we reposition our global business for long-term success," Hackett said in a statement. "With today’s actions, we are strengthening our commitment to the China market and reorganizing our international markets to strengthen their performance."

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The creation of Ford China will allow the automaker to focus more specifically on that market and enable faster decision making, the automaker said. Chen's appointment is the latest in a string of strategic hires within Ford's business in the world's largest market to position Chinese nationals in leadership positions there.

Ford, which was already late to the Chinese market, has lost valuable time there this year as it struggles to gain momentum, company leaders and automotive analysts have said.

Ford in mid-October announced an early 2019 launch for the all-new Territory SUV, one of the first Ford vehicles exclusive to China. Sale for Ford and its Chinese joint ventures slumped 30 percent through September this year compared to the same period a year ago. The company lost $394 million in China in the second quarter of 2018.

Fleet in recent months dubbed Ford's efforts in China a "turnaround plan." The automaker plans to launch 50 new vehicles in China by 2025, all of which cater more carefully to Chinese customers. The automaker has launched an all-new Focus in China as well as a Ford Escort.

Chen is a 25-year auto industry veteran. He was most recently CEO of Chery Automobile Ltd., and chairman of the board of directors of Chery Jaguar Land Rover, Automotive, China.

The changes to what was formerly known as Ford's Asia Pacific business will allow Ford to "capitalize on emerging markets opportunities, reduce bureaucracy, have the right cost structure and improve operational fitness," according to a statement. Ford's business outside of China in the Asia Pacific market was profitable, and the company has no immediate plans to exit any markets there.

"China is absolutely essential to Ford's profitability and growth,” Farley said in a statement. "As the largest vehicle market in the world, China commands its own leadership and focus. As we transition China to a stand-alone business unit, led by an experienced and talented Chinese business leader, we are able to become more fit as a business, increase our decision-making speed and be closer to our customers."  

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau