Manufacturing News

Ford to launch first ever SUV model in Chinese market

US automaker Ford Motor Co plans to enter China's booming sport utility vehicle (SUV) market, launching its first SUV model in the domestic market during the fourth quarter of this year, a top company executive said.

With the launch, Ford will plug the gap in its product portfolio in China. The SUV model will be imported into the domestic market. The move is of vital importance to Ford, said Nigel Harris, vice-president of Ford China and general manager of Chang'an Ford Sales Company.

The Edge, which will premiere at the Chengdu auto show on Friday, will be the first ever SUV offering from Ford's stable ever since it entered the Chinese market seven years ago.

The mid-sized SUV, which is also one of Ford's four global strategic vehicle models, has won a stable market share in the global SUV market, with 400,000 models sold since it hit the road at the end of 2006.

Tang Jidong, marketing and sales service director of Ford China, said that the company would start presales of the SUV in its Chang'an Ford showrooms from November and officially launch the model in December.

Ford will also consider locally producing the Edge to lower its price and improve competitiveness, provided there is enough market demand, Tang said.

Analysts said Ford's move to bring in its SUV this year indicates its ambition to boost sales in the fastest growing vehicle market. However, it has been lagging its rivals, as the SUV segment in China has grown at the rate of over 40 percent year-on-year during the past five years.

Local production, however, will be a hard road for Ford as it does not have an existing platform in its local ventures to manufacture the model. It will also entail huge investment.

Statistics from China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) show that China's SUV sales jumped to 750,000 units last year from 160,000 units in 2004.

In the first half, the SUV sector - the fastest growing vehicle segment in China - reported a sales surge of 133 percent over last year, to 587,000 units, said CAAM.

Moreover, among the 353,000 imported vehicles registered last year, the share of SUVs accounted for 54.8 percent.

China's SUV market is now dominated by Japanese manufacturers. Their products, such as Toyota's Highlander, RAV4, Prado, and Land Cruiser, as well as Honda's CR-V and Nissan's X-TRAIL and Qashqai, are competitively priced.

Europe's biggest automaker Volkswagen launched its locally produced SUV, Tiguan, in March this year, and it soon became the nation's best-selling model in the first half.

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