Economy

Ford Sets Sights On China's High-End Market

Unveiling the new Ford Taurus at Auto Shanghai 2015
Unveiling the new Ford Taurus at Auto Shanghai 2015
Bao Zhiming

SHANGHAI — The Ford Motor Company is taking a notably bling-bling approach to this year's Auto Shanghai 2015 exhibition, leaving the peppy-sporty market to competitors like Toyota and Volkswagen as it angles instead for China's high rollers.

As part of its push for the Asian giant's upscale markets, the U.S. auto manufacturer debuted its Taurus "premium business sedan," along with a pair of seven-seaters: the Ford New Explorer SUV and the Ford Edge.

The group has also gone back to pushing its Lincoln brand, which was forced to withdraw in 2008 due to sluggish sales but returned to the Chinese market at the end of last year. Lincoln products featured in the auto show include the mid-large-sized MKX and Navigator, as well as a Lincoln Continental limousine concept car, which will be available next year as a limited edition.

"Ford Taurus brings together Ford's best global design and development teams and resources. It's a brand new sedan model in which the needs of upscale clients are at the core of development," said Ma Ruiteng, president of Changan Ford Automobile, at the car show press conference.

Kumar Galhotra, Lincoln's global CEO, also spoke at the event. "China's luxury car market is in a fast developing phase and will be an important market that Lincoln looks to develop in the years to come. Before the end of 2016, we plan to introduce five models here," he said.

The vehicles presented at this year's Auto Shanghai exhibition, according to one industry source, mark a shift for Ford, which used to be synonymous with youth-targeted sports cars. "Obviously it intends to cut into China's upscale and luxury auto market," the source said.

New opportunities

Interestingly, the strategy shift comes at a time when China's premium car market is experiencing something of a slowdown. Its 30% growth rate last year paled in comparison to the 83.5% increase it posted in 2010.

Ford insists, nevertheless, that it has reason to be be optimistic. Market research, one Ford insider pointed out, suggests that middle-aged Chinese consumers are enjoying increased purchasing power. They're also keen to branch out from conventional front-line luxury brands such as Audi, Mercedes Benz and BMW. Last year, for example, Infiniti and Cadillac sales grew by 80% and 50% respectively while BMW sales only increased 16.7%.

Ford, still seen as "a young man's sports car" — Photo: Tim Wang

In its latest Chinese Luxury Car Market Outlook, McKinsey, a consulting firm, predicted that by 2016 China's luxury car sales are likely to exceed that of the U.S. market, and in 2020 China's luxury car market will still retain a 12% annual growth.

"Divine and distinguished"

"How we launch our flagship product, the Taurus, is based on a great deal of research. We found that it appeals very much to business people and in particular to the self-made entrepreneurs", Stephen T. Odell, Ford's executive vice-president for Global Marketing, Sales and Services, told Caixin.

The key, according to Bill Ford, the company's executive chairman, is to offer Chinese consumers something new and different. "The Chinese market plays a very critical role in our entire global map. We regard our development in China's upscale market as an important and long-term procedure," he said. "Ford wants to bring what Chinese customers haven't experienced or haven't been satisfied with before. For instance, an even more distinguished and divine sense that other brands can't offer."

Shedding its image?

Ford's confidence aside, it still faces a number of obstacles. The luxury field, for one thing, is crowded. Competitors include not only the market-leading brands Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, but also second-line brands like Cadillac, Lexus, Volvo, Infiniti, Citroen DS, which are pushing their own new models and making prices ever more attractive.

In the case of its Lincoln branch, Ford has the additional problem of limited sales channels. Right now it only has 11 Lincoln dealers in nine Chinese cities. Having so few distributors puts the company at a disadvantage when it comes to delivering models, providing follow-up services and general sales marketing. Ford plans to address the problem by expanding to 60 dealers in 50 cities by the end of 2016.

A third problem is that the Taurus — the model on which Ford pins such high hopes — falls within the most competitive price segment. Ford plans to sell the Taurus in the 300,000 to 400,000 yuan range ($49,000-$65,000).

Ford's biggest problem of all may be its current brand image. "Due to the overwhelming success of the Ford Focus, Chinese people think of Fords as being a young man's sports car," one industry insider explained.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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