Hinrichs led sharp increase in Ford's China capacity
Over the past two years, Ford Asia chief Joe Hinrichs has managed what may be the most ambitious expansion of Ford's manufacturing operations since Henry Ford built the Rouge plant.
As part of Ford's executive changes announced today, Hinrichs, 45, will replace Mark Fields as executive vice president and president for the Americas effective Dec. 1. Fields becomes Ford's COO and heir apparent to CEO Alan Mulally. Hinrichs had been group vice president and president of Asia Pacific Africa.
When Hinrichs took charge of Asian operations in December 2009, Ford was a marginal player in China. Hobbled by a limited product lineup, Ford trailed far behind sales leaders Volkswagen AG and General Motors.
With blessings from headquarters, Hinrichs launched construction of a transmission plant and an engine plant, both in Chongqing. The company built a vehicle assembly plant in Chongqing, and it announced plans to construct an assembly plant in Hangzhou.
By 2015, Ford China will be able to produce up to 1.2 million vehicles a year, doubling its current capacity.
Meanwhile, Ford won government approval to dissolve its three-way joint venture with Changan Automobile Co. and Mazda Motor Corp.
Ford will replace it with a two-way partnership with Changan, an arrangement that will give Ford more control and allow it to make decisions more quickly.
All this was part of the company's plan to introduce 15 new vehicles to China by 2015. Then Ford announced it would introduce Lincoln to China, which has proved to be a highly profitable market for luxury brands.
While it will be years before Ford's expansion is complete, the company can claim some early victories.
Ford has successfully introduced its redesigned Focus and Fiesta "world" cars in China. Next year, it will introduce the Kuga, EcoSport and Explorer in China, where SUVs are in demand.
With fresh products in its Chinese showrooms, Ford sales have been rising. In the first nine months of 2012, Ford's sales of passenger vehicles and commercial trucks rose 11 percent, outselling a relatively sluggish Chinese market.
Through September, Ford and its partners in China sold 428,083 passenger vehicles and commercial trucks, up 11 percent year-on-year.
For the first ninth months, forecaster LMC Automotive ranked the Ford brand 13th in sales, trailing far behind China's leading brands: Volkswagen, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai and Buick.
Hinrichs leaves behind an operation in the midst of a wrenching expansion. It will be up to David Schoch, the new president of Asia Pacific operations, to see these initiatives through to completion.
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