Ford plans deal with Alibaba to sell passenger cars online in China

Alibaba and Ford form technology-based alliance

Alibaba Group and Ford Motor have inked an agreement to explore ways to improve consumer retail experiences in the automotive industry, as the US automaker looks to rev up sales growth in the China market.

Building on a decade of significant investments and growth, Ford has outlined the next phase of its China expansion strategy, focused on SUVs, electric and connected vehicles, a streamlined business structure and closer connections to Chinese customers.

"The multi-pronged "letter of intent" will investigate leveraging Alibaba's Tmall online store to sell new vehicles, as well as its new "'auto vending machine' store concept", an idea that sounds more than a bit like what used car retailer Carvana has pioneered with increasing success.

At the 2017 Fortune Global Forum held in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, Ford said he is bullish on China's new energy vehicle (NEV) market, saying strong government resolve to encourage their use can be successful.

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Alibaba says that consumers can use their phones to browse the cars in the garage, before choosing to either test drive it or buy immediately. The details still need to be worked out, a source told Reuters. The chosen vehicle would be delivered to the ground floor.

Speaking to Reuters, head of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight, Yale Zhang, said it will hurt traditional dealers.

"When online sales and direct sales volume was small that is one thing".

Dealers are understandably concerned, though Ford believes they would agree considering they still get to service the cars. "Retail innovation is great, but it is by its nature disruptive and can't keep everybody happy". The cars would then be maintained and repaired by these franchise locations.

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Peter Fleet, Ford's Asia-Pacific president, said electric cars will take a big share of China's auto market, and the joint venture hopes to become a leader in the field.

Online auto sales volumes are now limited in China because vehicle buyers want to be able to see, touch and drive cars before buying them, said Zhang.

Ford's sales in the first 10 months of this year were 938,570, a decline of 5 per cent from the same period in 2016, against a 2.2 per cent gains to 3.13 million for hometown rival General Motors.

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