Amid slowing sales and rising competition, Ford Motor Co. is investing $1.8 billion in research that will help it build new smart cars in China. The U.S. car company announced Monday its plans to research smartphone connectivity, autonomous driving and other smart-car technologies over the next five years, the Associated Press reported. Its future Chinese products will include features developed specifically to appeal to Chinese customers as it hopes to expand in China. In the meantime, the company wants to sell smart cars in China using technology developed for other markets.
“We see China as a very big growth market,” Ford CEO Mark Fields said Monday, according to the Wall Street Journal. “It’s a great opportunity to not only grow our core business of selling cars and trucks but also provide services to people who may not want a car but still want to be mobile.”
Carmakers around the world see China as a source of potential sales growth and are investing significant amounts of money to appeal to Chinese customers. Ford competitor General Motors Co. announced in July it would be spending $5 billion to develop cars for China, Brazil, Mexico and India with its Chinese partner company.
However, China’s economic slowdown and government efforts to cut down on traffic and pollution have hurt the Chinese car market in recent months. New-car sales in China dropped 3.4 percent to 1.42 million vehicles in August, marking the third month of declining sales, according to the AP.
Fields wants Ford to attract new, younger buyers who would not traditionally be in the market for a vehicle, according to the WSJ. “I do see the slowdown this year. But we are starting to see customers come back to the marketplace,” he said.
Ford said it hopes to introduce Sync 3, a connectivity system that offers hands-free control over phones, entertainment, climate control and navigation. Other features the company will roll out include enhanced voice recognition software, a smartphone-like interface and improved graphics.
The company will also offer two fuel-efficient vehicles in China in response to the country’s renewed efforts to cut emissions, and it will add a vehicle testing center in the eastern city of Nanjing to develop new products in the country.