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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co is taking a cautious approach to producing electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles for the Chinese market, citing uncertainty about consumer interest and government policy, despite a rush by carmakers to jump into the sector.
"You don't get any prizes for being first to market," said Trevor Worthington, Ford's vice president for product development in Asia Pacific. The challenge is to offer electrified vehicles "at the right time".
Ford earlier this month outlined plans to offer by 2025 hybrid or fully electric versions of all models built in China with its domestic joint venture partner, Chongqing Changan Automobile Co Ltd.
However, Ford executives said how many such vehicles are built and sold will depend on factors including government subsidies, regulatory policy and when battery-electric cars can match the cost and fast refueling of gasoline vehicles.
During a meeting with reporters ahead of the Shanghai auto show on Wednesday, Worthington and Mazen Hammoud, the automaker's Asia Pacific powertrain director, said battery recharging would be a critical issue.
"Our goal needs to be something on the order of less than half an hour" to deliver an 80 percent charge, said Hammoud. Ultimately, "the goal needs to be similar to refueling a gasoline vehicle. We are a long way from that."
Worthington also said Ford has a "team of people who meet with the government every week" to discuss the still evolving policies designed to promote vehicle electrification.
Reuters reported in March, citing industry executives, that China was considering easing proposed quotas aimed at producing more electric vehicles. China has strongly supported and subsidized electric vehicles, but is gradually swapping out incentives for hard targets automakers must meet.
Worthington added Ford intended to bring to market what Chinese officials call "new energy vehicles" in a cost efficient way. He also expressed confidence the Chinese government would not push regulations that harm the industry.
"We provide huge employment," he said. "I don't think they are going to do things to make it impossible for the joint ventures to survive and thrive."
Reporting by Joseph White; Editing by Adam Jourdan