HANGZHOU, China — “Do you know how big Volvo is?” asked Don Leclair, finance chief at Ford.
It was 2008, and Leclair was responding to an offer from a little-known Chinese businessman to purchase the Swedish carmaker, which Ford owned.
The businessman, Li Shufu, had a company with less than half Volvo’s sales and a flagship model, King Kong, almost unknown outside China. He was politely shown the door of the “Glass House,” Ford’s iconic headquarters near Detroit, according to two people who were at the meeting. Ford’s Leclair did not respond to requests for comment about the episode.
Fast-forward to 2021 and Li Shufu’s company, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, is one of the biggest-selling automakers in the world’s biggest auto market. It controls not only Volvo Cars but also a clutch of global auto brands, and a significant stake in German giant Daimler AG, the maker of Mercedes-Benz. These