Ford recruits Alibaba to help break into China's electric vehicle industry

Ford has put a lot of focus on China's electric vehicle market - with a local joint venture expected to lead to 15 electric or hybrid models on sale in the country by 2025 - and today the automotive giant announced a tie-in with Alibaba to fulfill its ambitious goals.

According to sources close to the matter, Ford chief executive Jim Hackett and Ford executive chairman Bill Ford Jr. are set to be in Hangzhou on Thursday to sign the deal.

In October alone, 77,000 full electric vehicles were manufactured and an equal number of them were sold, up more than 76 percent and 95 percent respectively.

The model allows shoppers with good credit to purchase their new ride with a 10 per cent down payment and then make monthly payments for the vehicle purchase through Alibaba's affiliate Alipay, according to Alibaba.

Vehicles purchased online through Alibaba's Tmall may be delivered and serviced through Ford dealers, and indeed, the same could apply to vehicles found in the company's vending machine buildings.

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The move, though, could be potentially problematic for dealers, some industry experts said.

The source said Ford is "behind in using big data" to monitor sales trends and effectively market its cars and the move to online sales as well as the access to Tmall's massive database of information on consumers would help it to catch up.

"The scope of alliance is fairly broad and vague at this point, but a large chunk of the" strategic collaboration" appears to be based around developing a direct sales channel to reach consumers in China. "But if this format gains steam, it would definitely impact dealers", said Yale Zhang, the head of Shanghai consultancy Automotive Foresight. "Retail innovation is great, but is by its nature disruptive and can't keep everyone happy". Getting a test drive via the internet could change that, though.

Under their new three-year agreement, the pair will initially explore new opportunities in the auto retailing experience, from pre-sales to test-drives and financial leasing options, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. said in its announcement of the partnership.

China is the world's largest auto market, with about 23 million vehicles sold in the first 10 months of the year.

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