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Ford Motor Company (F)’s Asia Strategy Is Paying Off

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Over the past several years, Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) has been investing billions of dollars in Asia. As part of the company’s restructuring plan, and to help diversify Ford’s profit sources, Ford aimed to increase its presence in some of the largest and fastest-growing markets in the world, especially China. In 2012, more than 100% of Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F)’s profit came from the North American automotive sector; the rest of the company combined for a loss.

Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F)

The key to gaining market share in China and other large Asian economies is Ford’s plan to bring new “global” vehicles to these markets. For example, Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) is introducing 15 new models in China between 2012 and 2015. These model introductions — along with a territorial dispute between Japan and China that sparked anti-Japanese protests in China — have led to incredible sales growth for Ford in China.

However, due to the heavy level of reinvestment and rapidly growing manufacturing capacity, Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) has not been able to turn that sales growth into strong profits — until now. Last quarter, Ford earned $177 million before tax in its Asia Pacific Africa region, up from just $6 million in Q1, and a $66 million pre-tax loss in Q2 2012.

This strong result validates Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F)’s investments in the region. It also points to the potential for a much higher profit contribution from the region a few years down the road, after Ford has grown into its bigger manufacturing footprint.

Catching up in China
Ford’s investment in Asia — and particularly China — is definitely warranted given that China has already surpassed the U.S. as the largest auto market in the world, and continues to grow. Detroit rival General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) was way ahead of Ford in penetrating this market. Ford China set a record in 2012 with over 626,000 vehicle wholesales, but that paled in comparison to General Motors Company (NYSE:GM)‘s more than 2.8 million vehicle sales in China during the same period.

Obviously, Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) is not going to challenge GM for the market share crown for the foreseeable future. However, it grew China wholesales by an amazing 47% for the first half of 2013, putting it on pace to surpass last year’s record sales level by late September or early October! By contrast, General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) has grown China sales by a more modest 10.6% year to date, albeit from a much higher base.

As newly minted COO Mark Fields noted on Ford’s earnings call this week, the recent gains in China have been driven in large part by excitement about Ford’s growing SUV and crossover lineups. Moreover, Ford has been expanding its dealer network in order to gain a foothold in some of China’s smaller cities. These initiatives should provide a continuing sales tailwind in 2014 and 2015.

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