Ford was the first U.S. maker to build hybrid cars, starting in 2004, and it launched its Focus Electric hatchback in December 2011, just a year after the arrival of the Nissan Leaf.
It also continues to sell Energi plug-in hybrid versions of its mid-size Fusion sedan and its compact C-Max tall hatchback, two vehicles now in their sixth model years.
Aside from that, as other makers have ramped up their plug-in electric car efforts, Ford has been conspicuously absent.
The lack of a coherent electric-car strategy and future product lineup may be one reason Ford CEO Mark Fields was ousted in May, replaced by Jim Hackett, former CEO of Michigan furniture maker Steelcase.
Now the Dearborn, Michigan, company has announced it will partner with Chinese maker Anhui Zotye Automobile, which has sold 16,000 electric vehicles in China from January through July.
That represents about 7 percent of the plug-in vehicles sold in China during the first seven months of this year—and it's more cars with plugs than the 12,190 Ford sold in the U.S. among its three plug-in vehicle lines.
Jin Zheyong of Anhui Zotye Automobile and Peter Fleet of Ford Motor Company
The two companies have signed a formal memorandum of understanding to explore establishing a joint venture that would build and sell electric passenger cars in China.
The electric cars would be sold by a new brand to be established that would be owned 50-50 by the two companies.
Ford officials said its goal is to capture a "sizable" portion of the market for electric vehicles in China.
Looking forward, the company expects the proportion of vehicles it offers in China by 2025 to offer the option of an electrified powertrain. (This has been largely misreported as a goal of 70 percent electric cars by 2025; it's nothing of the sort.)
The country has aggressive plans to boost the percentage of zero-emission vehicles in the country, wielding both carrots and some large sticks to reduce emissions from the soaring number of privately owned cars on the country's roads.
Its government-industrial policy has long been for Chinese companies to achieve the largest share of the world's markets for photovoltaic solar cells, lithium-ion battery cells, and plug-in electric vehicles. The regulations it wields are written with that goal in mind.
2017 Ford F-150 Raptor SuperCrews being shipped to China
With draft regulations now out that significantly boost the mandated share of electric vehicle sales starting next year, every one of the world's major automakers is reshuffling its future lineups to boost offerings of electric cars in multiple segments.
Volkswagen has said China is the main driver behind its aggressive push to offer 30 electric models by 2025, and even fuel-cell stalwart Toyota will reluctantly design and sell battery-electric vehicles to stay competitive in China.
"The new 50:50 joint venture would be a major step forward in building on Ford’s electrification initiatives," the company said.
It will "significantly expand Ford’s footprint in China, along with [its two current] joint ventures, Changan Ford and Jiangling Motors Corporation."
For several years now, Ford has said it will spend $4.5 billion to launch 13 electrified vehicles globally over the next five years, including an all-electric small SUV that will be sold in North America, Asia, and Europe.
The majority of those cars are likely to be conventional hybrids or their plug-in hybrid variants, not battery-electric vehicles.