Ford Motor Company's Rarely Discussed Growth Engine: China

Ford has surging growth in China, but due to its lower sales volume and lack of profitability, investors don’t seem to focus on the region.

May 26, 2014 at 6:31PM

While the U.S. automaker has continued to do well in the States, many investors seem to forget about Ford's (NYSE:F) sales in China. Perhaps because it's a fraction of the sales volume in North America, or maybe it's because China is not something many of us are all that familiar with. 

Although the region does not contribute meaningfully to the bottom line yet, sales are surging. Let's take a look at some of the numbers:

Period

Sales

% Change*

     

April (2014)

96,829

29%

Q1 2014

271,321

45%

Year-to-Date (2014)   

368,150

41%

Full-Year (2013)

935,813   

49%

Source: Ford's financial releases; *year over year.

Ford continues to experience rapid growth in China, which is exactly what CEO Alan Mulally was banking on when he initiated Ford's investment in the region in 2011. The company planned to spend $5 billion building out factories, boosting production and increasing operations in China.

This growth factor is rarely discussed, in my opinion, and I can only imagine that it's because of the lower sales volume. Although the rate of growth is very fast, the total number of cars being sold is not staggering. 

Unlike General Motors (NYSE:GM), which derives over one-third of its total global sales from China (which is also the country that GM sells the most total vehicles in), Ford is still a relatively new competitor in the region.

Unfortunately for Ford, it did not have the same vision for China that its Detroit counterpart or German competitor Volkswagen did in the 1990s. At that time, those two automakers began focusing on China as a potential growth basin and are now being rewarded for the roots that they established two decades ago. 

Better late than never
Although Ford is late to the game, it still has a chance to make some serious money in China. Consider how many new vehicles are sold in China, as well as how many are expected to sell in 2020:

Ford China Sales

Source: CBS News; chart by author. 

Dave Schoch, head of Asia Pacific operations at Ford, had this to say, "I really think we have a golden opportunity here ... This is not a sprint in my mind. This is part of a very, very long journey." 

The Chinese economy is changing. A nation that was once hellbent on production and exports has suddenly began shifting gears to a more consumer-driven economy. That's not to say that it has shifted from a net exporter to a net importer, of course. 

Instead, it's just to say that the middle class in China is booming, and that trend seems unlikely to slow anytime soon. By listening to the conference calls of retailers like Michael Kors, Tiffany and Company, and Polo Ralph Lauren, the desire for higher-end goods is in high demand in the country. 

That goes with automobiles as well. General Motors is bringing the Cadillac brand to the country, while Ford is focused on the Lincoln brand. Other European luxury automakers, like BMW and Audi, have begun to put more focus on the region as well. If the above chart suggests anything, these automakers have a reason to key in on China's emerging consumer. 

The opportunities in China really shine when one considers how big the market actually is. In the U.S., roughly 800 out of 1,000 people own their own vehicle. In China, vehicle ownership is still in its infancy, with just 58 out of 1,000 citizens owning their own ride. 

So where does Ford stand? 
Ford aims to up its production to 1.7 million vehicles by 2015 and double its market share to 6%.

Instead, of doubling its market share in the next three years, (like it hopes to from 2012 to 2015), and assuming it does hit 6% by 2015, what if it merely doubled again by 2020?

If Ford can command 10% to 12% market share in China by 2020, and 30 million vehicles do indeed sell within the country that year, Ford is looking at selling between 3 million and 3.6 million vehicles. 

Consider that in 2013, Ford sold 2.4 million vehicles in the United States, and was the top-selling brand in the country. This beat out the runner-up, Chevrolet, by roughly 450,000 vehicles. 

The question for long-term investors is, how big can China become for the automaker? So far, things appear optimistic, as Ford's market share continues to rapidly grow. If you dismiss the Asia Pacific region in Ford's earnings reports, I highly suggest you start taking a look. 

On Ford's website, investors have access to the slide show for each earnings report, with detailed illustrations for each business region.

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Bret Kenwell owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends BMW, Ford, General Motors, and Michael Kors Holdings. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Michael Kors Holdings. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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