The auto industry had a fairly superb year across the board in 2013, as various world economies were able to gain some traction, and loss-making regions showed more promise toward becoming profitable once again. However, few markets were able to hold a candle to the sales powerhouse that is China, which again has proved itself invaluable to automakers worldwide.
Among others, Ford (NYSE:F) had a particularly banner year in the country, likely due to reverberations of anti-Japanese sentiment in China over a territorial dispute about a chain of islands. The Michigan-based company was able to pull ahead of world leader Toyota (NYSE:TM) as it packed on a 49 percent gain in sales for the world’s most populous country.
Ford delivered 935,813 units in China last year to Toyota’s 917,500 vehicles — still a 9.2 percent gain, but well short of Ford’s sales explosion. It marks the first time Toyota has been outsold by Ford going back about 13 years. Ford’s sales have grown faster in China than any other automaker despite a later start in the region, and the company is planning to sink about $4.9 billion more into manufacturing investments there.
“Ford was a latecomer, but they’ve really made an effort to diversify their portfolio,” Klaus Paur, the Shanghai-based global head of automotive coverage at market researcher Ipsos, told Bloomberg. “In 2014, Ford will solidify their position because it seems they have a good strategy and good portfolio.”
Ford’s Focus compact has found great success in China, as have the Kuga and EcoSport SUVs, as well as the Mondeo sedan. In the United States, the Mondeo is more commonly known as the Fusion.
Both Toyota and Honda (NYSE:HMC) saw sales rise admirably in 2013, given the headwinds they faced and the slowing growth they experienced in years prior. Still, their faltering made it easier for Germany’s Volkswagen (VLKAY.PK) to take the crown for the most sales in China, unseating General Motors (NYSE:GM) after eight years.
With 23 global vehicle launches due this year, Ford is steadily becoming a reckoning force for automakers all over — as if it wasn’t already — but China represents a concentrated battleground where the fight for dominance is being staged. With the arrival of the Lincoln brand later this year, Ford has a good shot at upending the current standings of China’s sales environment.