Ford China sales soar 49% in 2013, pushing it past Toyota for No. 5

Confetti flies as Xiu He Ping and his wife, Chen Xue, take delivery of their new Ford Focus in China. Photo credit: BRADFORD WERNLE

SHANGHAI (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co.'s China sales surged 49 percent in 2013, overtaking Toyota Motor Corp. as the nation's fifth-largest foreign automaker.

Ford delivered a record 935,813 units in the country last year, while Toyota's sales gained 9.2 percent to 917,500 vehicles. It's the first time Ford outsold Toyota on an annual basis in China, based on company statements stretching back to 2001.

While Ford got a later start in China than General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG, the automaker is catching up. The popularity of the Focus helped Ford's sales in the country expand faster than any major competitor and the company is spending $4.9 billion to double manufacturing capacity there.

"Ford was a latecomer, but they've really made an effort to diversify their portfolio," said Klaus Paur, Shanghai-based global head of automotive coverage at market researcher Ipsos. "In 2014, Ford will solidify their position because it seems they have a good strategy and good portfolio."

Aside from the Focus, Ford benefited from the popularity of new locally manufactured models such as the Kuga and EcoSport SUVs, as well as the Fusion -- called Mondeo in China.

Japanese recovery

Through the first 11 months of 2013, Volkswagen outsold all other foreign automakers in China, followed by General Motors, Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co., according to figures reported by the companies. Through 2012, GM had held the lead for eight straight years.

At Toyota, sales rebounded to a record in 2013, recovering from the previous year, when a backlash against Japanese brands caused its sales in the country to fall for the first time on record. The company brought new versions of the Vios, Yaris L and Reiz compact cars and the RAV4 crossover to China last year to win back consumers.

Honda Motor Co. saw sales rise 26 percent to a record 756,882 vehicles last year, led by a 60 percent increase in December.

While political disputes between Asia's two largest economies resurfaced last year, Japanese automakers avoided the type of economic fallout they saw in 2012, when diplomatic tensions led to violent protests and a boycott of Japanese products.

In 2012, the Japanese government's purchase of a group of uninhabited islands claimed by both countries prompted some demonstrators to torch dealerships and vandalize cars associated with Japan. As consumers shunned Japanese cars, Toyota, which had previously predicted China sales to reach 1 million in 2012, scaled back its projections for the market.

Last year, tensions between the two countries flared again after China created an air-defense area covering the islands and Shinzo Abe last month became the first sitting Japanese prime minister since 2006 to visit the Yasukuni Shrine that memorializes the nation's war dead. The diplomatic disputes in 2013 didn't lead to mass protests as they did in 2012.

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