FILE PHOTO - Key Safety Systems Chief Executive Officer Jason Luo listens to a question during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo, Japan October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
Ford’s China chief Jason Luo has resigned from the group for personal reasons © Reuters

The head of Ford’s China business has stepped down after five months in the role with the company citing “personal reasons that predate his time at Ford”.

Jason Luo’s abrupt departure caught the Chinese car industry by surprise due to its suddenness and his short time in the job. It underlines the challenges Ford and other multinational car majors face running their business in the changing landscape of China.

Ford China had a disappointing year last year: sales in 2017 fell 6 per cent, compared with total car sales growth in China of 3 per cent.

Peter Fleet, Ford group vice-president and president of Ford Asia Pacific, said Mr Luo’s resignation was for personal reasons. “Jason’s decision was not related to the business strategy or performance of Ford China, which remains robust, with a bright future ahead,” he said, according to a statement released by Ford on Monday.

“Jason made valuable contributions in accelerating our electric vehicle strategy, exploring opportunities to provide future smart mobility solutions for customers in China, and identifying ways to become more operationally fit,” said Mr Fleet. “We are grateful for Jason’s service to the company and wish him all the best in the future.”

Luo’s replacement will be announced later, the company said. One China-based auto consultant said that while he had no first hand knowledge of the reasons for Mr Luo’s departure, it may have had something to do with internal deliberations within Ford over its China strategy at a time of intense change.

“Until the past year they had a good run in China. But you’ve got to do something fundamental to make a difference in this business,” he said. “He [Luo] may have stepped into a situation that required more than cosmetic surgery, and the patient has to be ready for that,” he said.

Mr Luo’s appointment was strongly identified with Ford’s efforts to catch foreign rivals who were far ahead in responding to the Chinese government’s ambitious plans for electric vehicles.

The government has been using an array of regulations to encourage adoption of EVs in China, and to force carmakers to make more, something for which the industry say the market may not be ready.

The announcement of Mr Luo’s appointment last August came a day after Ford said it was in talks to form a joint venture to develop and sell electric cars for the Chinese market with Chinese carmaker Zotye.

That agreement was clinched in November as well as a pledge to invest Rmb5bn ($756m) in developing electric vehicles. That, however, is relatively little compared with rivals such as Volkswagen, which has pledged to invest €10bn ($12.4bn) in developing EVs in China to 2025.

Before joining Ford, Mr Luo was chief executive at Michigan-based Key Safety Systems, an automotive safety group.

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