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Ford exploring Chinese joint venture for EVs

Americans won’t buy them, but Ford Motor Co. sees opportunity for electric vehicles in China.

The Dearborn-based automaker announced Tuesday in Shanghai, China, that it would sign a memorandum of understanding with Anhui Zotye Automobile Co. Ltd., a big all-electric vehicle maker there. The memorandum will help the companies “explore” launching a joint venture to develop, produce, market and sell a new Ford line of all-electric passenger vehicles in China, according to a statement from the company.

In order to sell vehicles in China, automakers are required to partner with a Chinese company. Ford already has multiple Chinese joint ventures. Any vehicles produced if a joint venture is launched would be sold under a brand owned by the new joint venture, according to a statement.

Zotye Auto was one of the first electric vehicle-makers in the country. The company sold 16,000 all-electric vehicles through the first half of this year, a 56 percent increase compared to the same period a year ago.

“The potential to launch a new line of all-electric vehicles in the world’s largest auto market is an exciting next step for Ford in China,” said Peter Fleet, Ford group vice president and president, Ford Asia Pacific, in a statement. “Electric vehicles will be a big part of the future in China and Ford wants to lead in delivering great solutions to customers.”

Ford said Tuesday it would give additional details about the brand, products and production numbers at a later date pending a definitive agreement between the companies.

In addition to amplifying Ford’s effort to establish a greater presence in China, Tuesday’s announcement amplifies Ford’s electrification goals. The company has already invested $4.5 billion to make electric vehicles, and plans to bring 13 new electric vehicles to the market in the next five years.

That includes an all-electric small SUV to be sold in Asia, North America and Europe. That unnamed vehicle is slated to be built at Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant.

The company also plans to have 70 percent of all Ford vehicles sold in China have electric powertrain options by 2025.

Ford’s Changan Ford joint venture announced it would introduce the Mondeo Energi plug-in hybrid sedan in early 2018. Ford and its joint ventures in 2016 sold a record 1.27 million vehicles in China, though the company’s imported vehicle volume for 2016 was down overall from 2015. The automaker recently began exporting the 2017 F-150 Raptor to China, too.

In June, Ford announced it would produce the next-generation Focus in China instead of Mexico, and it will import the China-made cars to the U.S. Moving Focus production to China will save Ford $1 billion compared to the original plan to build that new facility in Mexico, which it canceled at the start of the year, according to Ford.

ithibodeau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

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