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Ford CEO Mark Fields 'encouraged' by US-China future as Trump, Xi end summit

President Donald Trump greets CEO of Ford Motor Company Mark Fields during a meeting with auto industry leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.
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President Donald Trump greets CEO of Ford Motor Company Mark Fields during a meeting with auto industry leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Ford Motor CEO Mark Fields is feeling optimistic about the outlook for U.S.-China relations, the executive told CNBC on Saturday, a day after the conclusion of a summit between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

On Friday, Trump said that the two leaders had made progress on tough bilateral issues as both men met at the president's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Trump, who has previously taken aim at China's currency and trade policies and made protectionism a centerpiece of his economic policy, hailed Xi's visit in a tweet early Saturday.

However, Trump added that "only time will tell" whether the two countries could find common ground on trade.

"I was very encouraged by the fact that the two Presidents—and particularly very early in President Trump's term—have decided to come together and first start the process of establishing a relationship," Fields told CNBC on the sidelines of a Ford event in Shanghai unveiling a new line-up of cars for the Chinese market.

"It's very different when you talking on the phone versus when you have had a chance to meet and break bread with that individual," he said.

Chinese state media on Saturday cheered the meeting between Trump and his Chinese counterpart, as one that showed the world that confrontation between the two powers was not inevitable.

China is one of Ford's largest markets, and last year the automaker topped 1 million cars in the Asia Pacific region. Fields told CNBC that Ford expects sales in China "to be down very slightly" in 2017; however, he remains "very confident in the growth outlook."

Ford doubles down on China car market

2016 Ford C-Max Energi
Source: Ford
2016 Ford C-Max Energi


At the Shanghai event, Ford unveiled bigger plans for China, confirming two new electric vehicles and larger ambitions for pickup truck sales in the country.

The Mondeo Energi will be Ford's first locally manufactured plug-in hybrid in China, and will be launched in early 2018. Meanwhile, the company also has a new fully electric small SUVs, which will be available within the next five years. As part of its new electric strategy, the company said it would sell a broad range of electric vehicles (EV)s by 2025, in line with Beijing's own initiative to put more electric vehicles on Chinese roads.

Separately, the Ford Ranger will be launched in China next year. In addition, the F-150 Raptor is now available in the country for RMB499,800 (nearly $74,000) for a standard series, and RMB548,800 (around $81,000) for a more premium model.

Ford also plans a new version of its EcoSport for the Chinese market, building on its range of SUVs.

--Reuters contributed to this article.