Brands to Watch: Ford in China

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Over the past few weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that my current Nissan SUV is coming to the end of its life under my ownership, I bought it new in 2008 and now it’s 2013, its time to say goodbye. It has been a fairly faithful companion over the past few years, taking me and bikes up mountains being used as a shuttle vehicle by a variety of different drivers who rarely care for a car that isn’t their own, my boy bounces around on the cream seats with his shoes on and the trunk is currently full of building supplies and oddly enough, a picnic table but no actual chairs. The vehicle in question hasn’t had any major issues to date, I changed the four Kumho tires for new Pirelli’s to give it a poor mans lift kit for those rough mountain roads and wax it every now and again as the scratches from low level branches on forest roads leave long their marks. Now there is a knocking sound at low level speeds when turning which is either the CV joint telling me it’s time to die or the steering mechanism is on its way out, the horn stops working every now and again which is highly frustrating in China.

I had two cars in mind to replace it, either the 2013 Hyundai Sante Fe or the 2013 Ford Kuga – Escape in North America. I went first to the Ford dealership, the dealership was busier than a supermarket prior to Chinese New Year and potential consumers neatly lining up to take a seat in a car of their choice. In one corner you had the aggressive looking Focus ST in bright orange, over in the other corner you had the hulking American made Explorer and in the busiest corner you could find the new Ecosport and Kuga SUV. The 2013 Mondeo hadn’t arrived yet, but the 2013 Fiesta with its Aston style grill was in the center of the floor. The salesman was eager to please, clearly a new hand to the car selling game he followed us from the door politely enquiring about which car we were here to see, calling my wife Big Sister and oddly calling me Sir as they do in Hong Kong TV dramas. The Kuga was a nice car in 2.0T form, but a little on the small side for my growing family.

Next stop was Beijing-Hyundai to see the Sante Fe. First warning sign was the lack of an electric sliding door, employees were operating it manually, then the flagship Sante-Fe had no battery power rendering the useless and the salesman seemed more irritated than pleased with our presence.

Both brands are powerhouses in the Chinese market, Hyundai maybe more so due to their widespread product portfolio but the treatment between dealerships couldn’t be more different, Ford clearly want to sell cars and are highly pro-active in the process, my casual observations noted that not a single customer was  left without a sales consultant to take them through the very wide range of vehicles that Ford now have in their line-up, and there were many customers on hand to ask the most taxing questions of the Kuga “Is it bigger than a VW Tiguan?” “Does it come in blue?” “How much are you adding to the price to pick it up early?”.  Ford may have had a lost decade in China whilst they played about trying to formulate something akin to a product plan, but it seems they have finally cracked it, service is key in trying to get a developing world customer to part with what is likely to be an ‘investment’ of more than a yearly salary on a car. Ford are likely to be the next big thing in the Chinese auto market.

N.B. I maybe in need of a new car, but I am still leaning towards the Sante-Fe owing to the third row seats which the Kuga doesn’t offer. The Explorer has three rows as does the Ford Edge, but the V6 in the Explorer is too meaty for my needs and the Edge’s design does not tickle my fancy, I am merely impressed by the level of service Ford are offering, now my task is to find a Beijing-Hyundai dealership that is interested in selling automobiles. Other cars to see: 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander and Kia Sorrento.

About the author  ⁄ Ash

Ash came to China at 18 and never looked back, a decade later he is still here. After a 4 year stint in a Chinese University where he gained a double BA in Chinese and International Trade he worked for a myriad of different companies in the Chinese Auto industry before heading back to school to get an MBA with a focus in marketing.

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