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Ford Raises Stake in Chinese Joint Venture

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Ford Motor Co. (F - Free Report) announced that has raised its stake in Chinese light commercial vehicles joint venture, Jiangling Motors Corp., to 31.5% from 30.0%. The Detroit-based automaker purchased 13.0 million Hong Kong dollar-denominated B-shares of Jiangling Motors, which manufactures JMC light trucks, SUVs, and Ford Transit van in China.

After the purchase, Ford’s stake in the joint venture went up to $705 million. The company is also looking forward to raise its stake in the joint venture further by 0.5% to 32.0% – the maximum limit allowed by the securities regulator – within a year.

Ford continues to post robust sales growth in China. Last month, the automaker posted a staggering 65% rise in sales to 81,387 vehicles.

Considering the first quarter of the year, Ford’s sales went up 54% to 186,000 vehicles. In the same period, Jiangling sold 56,420 vehicles, up 7.1% from the year-ago period.

Ford’s archrival, General Motors Company (GM - Free Report) and its Chinese joint venture partners sold 290,538 vehicles in the month, up 12.6% from March 2012. It was the company’s second-highest monthly sales ever recorded in China.

In the first quarter of the year, GM’s sales increased 9.6% to 816,373 vehicles, overtaking Volkswagen AG (VLKAY - Free Report) , led by burgeoning demand for its Buick lineups. Volkswagen reported a 21% rise in sales to 770,000 vehicles in the same period.

Japanese automakers continued to be the losers due to the political conflict between Beijing and Tokyo over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Sales of Japanese brands, including Toyota Motor Corp. (TM - Free Report) , fell 17.8% during the month.

Overall passenger vehicle sales in China slowed down in March compared to the first two months of the year, mainly due to the stricter regulation imposed by the government on vehicle ownership aimed at controlling increasing pollution and traffic congestion in the country. According to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), passenger vehicle (cars, multipurpose and sport- utility vehicles) sales rose 13.3% to 1.59 million units in March compared with a 19.5% increase in Jan–Feb this year.

Passenger vehicle sales grew 17.2% to 4.42 million units in the first quarter of the year, which is higher than 7.1% growth registered in 2012. Thanks to the steep discounts that kept passenger vehicle sales at a higher level in the world’s biggest auto market. Total vehicle (passenger vehicles, buses and trucks) sales grew 13.2% to 5.4 million units in the first three months of the year compared with 4.3% to 19.3 million vehicles in 2012.

Ford has embarked upon an aggressive expansion plan in China that includes plans to triple its lineup in China by introducing 15 models, including the Kuga small sport utility vehicle by 2015. Currently, the company sells seven models in the country.

In order to develop the new models, Ford will build new plants raising its capital spending to about $6 billion annually by mid-decade from $4.3 billion in 2011. In order to keep pace with the expansion, Ford also plans to double its workforce by hiring 1,200 employees by 2015.

Ford anticipates global sales to expand by 50% to 8 million vehicles by 2015 given the potential growth in Asia, mainly China and India; and rising demand for small cars. The automaker anticipates small cars to account for 55% of the total sales by 2020 compared with 48% presently. One third of the small car sales are expected to come from Asia.

Currently, shares of Ford retain a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

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