This photo provided by Ford Motor Co. shows the 2017 Ford Expedition, which ranks No. 5 in the Made in America Auto Index and is an Edmunds pick for an SUV. The Expedition has 81 percent domestic content and is built in Louisville, Ky. (Courtesy of Ford Motor Co. via AP)
INTERNATIONAL - Ford Motor is expected to sign as early as today a deal with Alibaba Group Holding, which may allow the US carmaker to test selling cars to consumers in China through Alibaba’s online retail arm Tmall, as well as via a new “auto vending machine” store concept, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Representatives of Ford and Alibaba, including Ford executive chairperson Bill Ford Jr and Ford chief executive Jim Hackett, are expected to be in Hangzhou today to sign a letter of intent that outlines the scope of the new partnership.

Growth momentum

According to the source, who did not want to be named because he is not authorised to speak with reporters, the deal is intended to position the Dearborn, Michigan, carmaker for an emerging Chinese marketplace where more cars could be sold online.

The partnership would be part of Ford’s effort to overhaul its China strategy to revive the growth momentum it has lost in recent months.

Ford’s global chief spokesperson Mark Truby said the company is expected to make an announcement today in Hangzhou, where Alibaba is based, but declined to comment in advance.

The source said the proposal could mean that cars purchased online are delivered to buyers by franchised Ford retail stores and would be maintained and repaired by them.

But Ford could also use Tmall’s new retail concept called the “Automotive Vending Machine” - a multi-storey parking garage that partly resembles a giant vending machine - to sell directly to consumers, the source said.

Those cars could come directly from Ford or from its dealers but the details are still to be worked out.