BEIJING — Ford Motor Co. continued its China blitz last week, announcing that it would join the country’s increasingly competitive luxury-car segment by introducing Lincoln automobiles to the Chinese market by 2014.
The announcement came a day after Ford broke ground on its sixth factory in China, a $600 million plant in the southwestern city of Chongqing, and revealed that it had won initial regulatory approval to free itself from a local joint venture to manufacture cars with Mazda.
The developments allow the Dearborn, Mich., automaker to ramp up its ambitious expansion plans in China in an all-out effort to catch up with its far more popular foreign rivals, Volkswagen and General Motors Co.
“Lincoln is an important part of our plan, and introducing Lincoln in China marks the next step in our expansion in Asia and our commitment to serving customers in the luxury market,” said Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who is touring China.
Ford is a latecomer to China but has committed about $5 billion since 2006 to build factories, grow its vehicle lineup and expand its dealership network in the world’s second-largest economy.
Ford now sells an array of compact vehicles, sedans, SUVs and vans in China. Sales hit just over half a million units last year. Passenger vehicle sales have grown 7 percent this year, according to LMC Automotive, about 2 percent below the industry-wide rate of expansion.
With the introduction of Lincoln, the company hopes to tap a consumer segment that has been wildly successful for Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The three German automakers combine for almost 80 percent of the luxury-car market.
Unlike those brands, which manufacture in China, Ford will import the still-to-be-released Lincolns when they’re officially launched here in the second half of 2014. A new Lincoln MKZ sedan is to be launched in the U.S. this year, part of a revitalization plan to introduce several new vehicles to the brand’s lineup.