Long Road to Catch General Motors and Volkswagon
As impressive as Ford's growth has been China, the blue oval is barely a blip in the rear view mirror of Volkswagen and General Motors. VW and GM dominate the Chinese auto market, where each of them sells more than three times as many vehicles as Ford.
(Read More: Volkswagen Revs Up to Overtake General Motors)
VW and GM lead China in large part because they started investing heavily in the country in the mid-to-late 90's when the communist government opened the door for foreign automakers. As a result, when the populated eastern part of China started buying millions and cars and SUV's, VW and GM were front and center in cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
By comparison, Ford was late to the game. While the company made small investments in China, in the late 90's and early 2000's Ford was primarily focused on growing sales and profits in the U.S.—where the popularity of the Explorer SUV and F-Series pick-up helped Ford's U.S. market share surge well above 20 percent. Those heady days ended with the Explorer tire controversy and the steady drop in U.S. sales and profits.
Mulally's China Strategy
In 2006, when Alan Mulally was brought in to turnaround Ford, he knew job one was shoring up a money-losing U.S. operation. Job number two was making Ford a true competitor in China.
"I remember one of the first conversations I had with Bill [Ford] was what's Ford's plan to support customers all around the world," noted Mulally. "I knew that was going to be a very important part of our growth plan going forward. He said we had a small operation in China, but he believed, like I did, that it was going to be a tremendous growth opportunity."