(Repeats earlier story with no changes to text)
By Norihiko Shirouzu
BEIJING Jan 11 Ford Motor Co is betting
on one of its most distinctively American models, the Mustang
muscle car, to boost the company's sales and profits in China.
Ford began selling the Mustang in China in early 2015, and
it is a niche vehicle, selling at a rate of about 3,000 cars a
year. Still, that makes the Mustang, which starts at 399,800
yuan ($57,670) the top-seller in a sporty car segment against
more expensive vehicles like the Audi TT and the Nissan Skyline
GT-R. Mustang last year outsold the Chevrolet Camaro from
General Motors Co by nearly 15 to one.
With styling that harks back to 1960s Detroit muscle cars,
the Mustang stands out in a Ford lineup dominated by practical
sedans and sport utility vehicles. Ford's sales in China grew by
50 percent in 2013 and 20 percent in 2014, but in 2015 the pace
slowed to 3 percent. In 2016, Ford added the Lincoln luxury
brand to its China lineup and expanded sales by 14 percent.
Industry analysts said Ford's China market profits and
profitability were relatively healthy, with operating margins
for Ford's joint ventures with Chongqing Changan Automobile Co
Ltd (000625.SZ) and Jiangling Motors Corp (JMC) (000550.SZ) in
the 14-16 percent range over the past three years.
But competition in the world's largest car market continues
to heat up as global automakers, from GM to Volkswagen AG
to Toyota Motor Corp, add more models to
product ranges. Indigenous Chinese automakers, too, are
launching models that can compete more head-on with global
Ford officials said the company's China operations did not
have specific profit objectives but were trying to keep margins
in their current "healthy" range.
"In terms of having a pricing power on your brand, you want
people to be choosing your brand for rational reasons, but if
you could also (combine) that with emotional reasons, that's
when you get some pricing power," Peter Fleet, Ford's executive
in charge of sales and marketing for the Asia-Pacific region
The Mustang and the F-150 Raptor, a high performance version
of Ford's F-150 large pickup truck, provide the emotion, he
The formula works for Dong Zirui, a 27-year-old small rental
car business owner in the northeastern China city of Tangshan
who bought a Mustang late last year.
"The Mustang is a rear-wheel-drive car," said Dong who
decided to buy the Mustang when he spotted photos of it online.
"It's a savage when you try some drifting stunts with the car."
But Dong said he can fit his wife and young son in the car when
he needs to.
Dealers say the Mustang brings in two types of buyers to
Ford stores: younger drivers, mostly younger than 30 years of
age, from upper-middle class families, who have recently
finished their studies and have financial support from their
parents, as well as drivers in their 30s and 40s who have work
or life experience outside China.
"Ford has a cleaner sheet in China, so there might be an
opening for those halo cars to help the company improve its
brand image," said James Chao, Asia-Pacific chief for consulting
and research firm IHS Markit Automotive, referring to China
being a relatively young market.
As Chinese consumers typically make car purchasing decisions
based on word-of-mouth advice from their family and friends,
Mustang buyers can be influential opinion leaders for Ford.
Guo Xin, a 30-year-old rally car racer and stunt driver for
films and commercials in Beijing, said he liked the Mustang so
much that in 2011 he helped form a Mustang Club of China which
now has some 2,000 members.
"Growing up I used to see the Mustang in movies," said Guo
who drives a 2006 Mustang and also owns a 1966 Mustang.
Guo's classic Mustang would turn heads even in Detroit. But
he cannot take it out on public roads. Used cars brought in from
outside China cannot be registered in the country.
(Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu in Shanghai and Beijing;
Editing by Andrew Hay)