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July 25, 2017

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Ford exploits industry ‘undergoing great change’

PETER Fleet took over as chairman and chief executive officer of Ford China on July 1. He is also president of Ford Asia-Pacific.

In China, he will oversee the company’s production here and the company’s joint venture with Changan Ford.

Fleet was born in Britain in 1967 and holds a bachelor’s degree in politics and international relations from the University of Southampton. He is married, with a son and two daughters.

He had held leading roles with Ford for nearly 30 years, with important positions in European and Asian operations.

Fleet recently sat down with Shanghai Daily to discuss his new role and Ford’s strategies for the China market.

Q: What are Ford’s plans in China in the coming years?

A: We have many exciting plans. The automotive business is undergoing great change in China, and Ford is going to take advantage of that change.

Our plans to expand business in China are threefold: to sharpen our operational execution, to modernize our business and invent our future. We are going to take advantage of big data, artificial intelligence and 3D printing, and integrate these technologies into our business.

I will also accelerate development of our local employees to hone their skills, experience and confidence, and bring them up to senior levels of the company. We have many Chinese employees who work overseas in US and Europe. They are helping business there. We expect these employees come back to China to work as future leaders of our business.

Q: How do you turn priorities into reality?

A: First, I like to seek out and listen to suggestions from our employees on ways to modernize our business. We have set up an email address to collect suggestions from employees. Within one week alone, we received 100 ideas.

Secondly, we are going to have fewer meetings. As the market changes quickly, we need to be more nimble. We need to give our employees more time to think and act and less time sitting in meetings and getting approvals. Jim Hackett, our new global chief executive officer, has cut the number of global meetings greatly.

Q: How do you see the China auto market in the second half of this year?

A: We expect single-digit growth to continue for the rest of this year. I have higher confidence in terms of sales growth in the third quarter, but we will have to wait and see about the fourth quarter. The sales figures in the fourth quarter of last year were strong, especially in November and December.

Q: What do you see as Ford’s biggest challenge in China?

A: I think the greatest and also the most exciting challenge facing Ford is electrification. Government policy is extremely clear on that the market is going to move very quickly toward electrified vehicles in the next few years, including plug-in hybrid vehicles and all-electric vehicles. I just spent five hours in a meeting reviewing our plans for electric vehicles for the China market. Within the next four years, we plan to bring an all new small battery electric vehicle into China.

Q: As we all know, sports-utility vehicles sell well in China. How long do you expect that segment to prosper?

A: For the foreseeable future, the growth of SUVs is going to continue in China. How long? As long as you can imagine. Chinese customers who have bought a SUV vehicle are very likely to buy another one. It is very unusual for customers who buy SUVs to move back to sedans.

Chinese consumers are particularly interested in the large interior space of a sports-utility vehicle. They also love the higher driving position. For example, we sell a two-row SUV with five seats in US, Canada and Europe, while here we offer a three-row option with seven seats to accommodate the demand from Chinese customers.

Q: Shanghai is home to Ford’s Asia-Pacific headquarters. Could you comment a bit on the company’s commitment here?

A: Ford is very active in testing autonomous vehicles in the National Intelligent Connected Vehicle Shanghai Pilot Zone. We see it is a great opportunity to develop our advanced technologies in Shanghai and in China. The autonomous vehicle testing in Shanghai is also part of our global plan to develop and sell a fully autonomous, stage 4 level vehicle by 2021.

I have spent the last 18 months living in Shanghai. During that time, I worked closely with Chang’an Ford, Jiangling Motors Corporation and Lincoln businesses in China. My wife and young children are here with me. My 10-year-old son is learning Mandarin and can now talk with people in Chinese.


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