From the letter from Sun Yat-sen to Ford founder Henry Ford, to the first vehicle rolling off the production line at the assembly plant of its local joint venture, Ford Motor Company has been actively engaging in bridging China-U.S. economic and cultural ties for more than 100 years.
Henry Ford changed how the world moves at the beginning of the 20th century by turning the automobile from a plaything for the rich to a necessity for the general public. His cars charmed many leading figures of his time, including Chinese leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen. In 1924 Dr. Sun wrote a letter inviting Henry Ford to visit, encouraging him to help create “a new industrial system” in China, something that Sun viewed as imperative to the country’s economic development.
Although Mr. Ford did not make that early trip to China, his cars did. The first Ford Model T was delivered to a Chinese customer through the company’s sales agency in 1913. In 1928, Ford set up a sales and service branch in Shanghai, which functioned until the beginning of World War II.
Ford’s modern day involvement in China began in June 1978, following a visit from Deng Xiaoping to the United States. Deng met with Henry Ford II and other Ford executives, and shortly after Ford was among the first U.S. automakers to enter the Chinese market. As Henry Ford II put it, the company was “interested in participating in the development of the automotive industry in the People’s Republic of China.”
In November 1978, Ford established an Office of China Affairs and first explored the possibility of entering into a joint venture to manufacture heavy duty trucks. About six months later, Ford’s F-series trucks were being sold to China, marking the first time a U.S.-sourced vehicle was shipped to China since 1949.
After several early entries into the China market, the company officially established Ford Motor (China) Ltd. in Beijing in 1995. Ford began to accelerate its China growth in 2011, when it announced an aggressive China expansion plan at Auto Shanghai that April, and said it would double its capacity and dealer network. To date Ford has invested some US$ 4.9 billion in China.
Reflecting Mr. Henry Ford’s famous quote “To do more for the world than the world does for you— that is success,” Ford China has also instituted some wide-ranging CSR initiatives. One such effort is the company’s Conservation and Environmental Grants China (CEGC) program, which encourages and supports grassroots efforts in environmental preservation. Since its launch in 2000, the project has supported 354 trailblazing organizations and leaders dedicated to environmental protection, with donations reaching RMB 18.1 million.
In 2012, Ford China launched “Level Up!,” a capacity-building program designed to give green NGOs based in mainland China the tools, skills and resources they need to grow their organizations through workshops and training, coaching and mentoring projects. By the end of 2014, over 300 environmental NGOs and 1,500 managers from 18 provinces had benefitted from the program.
Ford continues to embrace the vision, legacy, and responsibility Henry Ford instilled in the company almost a century ago in China today. Whether it’s bringing the latest innovative technology to its vehicles or supporting green NGOs, the company remains committed to being a cultural bridge and helping make China a better place.