Ford's China sales stuck in first gear as rivals overtake

FILE PHOTO - Ford Taurus cars are seen during a presentation at the 16th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition in Shanghai, April 21, 2015. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co saw its China vehicle sales make the barest of increases in September, extending a tough run in the world’s largest auto market even as global rivals have logged robust gains.

The U.S. automaker has lacked a high-volume brand of affordable entry cars for China and has been criticized for slow decision-making that has cost it share in a market where consumer tastes change quickly.

In response, it has brought in a new China head, Jason Luo, a Chinese-born American formerly at U.S.-based air bag maker Key Safety Systems, tasked with building closer ties with Ford’s local partners and working more effectively with regulators.

The U.S. carmaker sold 112,902 vehicles in China last month, an increase of some 430 from the same period a year earlier.

By contrast, rivals Toyota Motor Corp, Honda Motor Co and Nissan Motor Co Ltd saw gains of 14 percent or more while General Motors posted an increase of 7 percent.

Overall vehicles sales in China rose 5.7 percent in September - a fourth straight month of growth.

Like many other global automakers, Ford is also looking to revamp its strategy towards electric vans and cars to keep up with Beijing’s push for cleaner new-energy vehicles (NEV).

The country has set strict quotas for NEVs which carmakers must meet by 2019, a move that is prompting a flurry of electric car deals and new launches of electric and hybrid models. Ford said it was looking to set up an electric car venture with Chinese firm Anhui Zotye Automobile Co in August.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan and Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Edwina Gibbs