Ford Motor will launch the new generation of its best-selling Focus compact car on the mainland 'early next year', the first of 15 new models that will more than triple the Detroit car manufacturer's line-up in the world's biggest car market.
The current version of the Focus accounts for 60 per cent of Ford's passenger car sales on the mainland, and the company is hoping the new model - a so-called 'global car' that is sold around the world with little modification - will build on that success, according to Ford executive director for business strategy in the Asia Pacific and Africa, Will Periam.
The new model launches are part of a major US$1.6 billion expansion programme that will double Ford's mainland output capacity with four new car and engine plants, as well as double its dealer network and employee base, by 2015.
The new Focus will be Ford's first mainland-built car to feature its 'Sync' technology, which was developed with Microsoft. The voice-activated feature synchronises the car to smartphone and allows users to contact an operator for emergencies or driving directions.
'It will be interesting to see how it works in China,' said Periam.
'Tailoring language recognition and customer interface in terms of screens and voice interface is obviously critical to its success.' Colours and trims will also be modified to local tastes.
Handling features and engine calibration will be tweaked to mainland road and fuel conditions.
And the car will include ashtrays - increasingly rare on new cars in the US and Europe - because 'here they are important', Periam said. Ford's sales growth has outpaced the 5.9 per cent rise in mainland passenger car sales in the first seven months of the year.
Sales at its Chongqing Changan Ford Mazda joint venture were up 9 per cent and its commercial vehicle maker, Jiangling Motors, up 18 per cent, Periam said.
'We're doing that on the back of carryover products ... We are opening two dealerships a week on average,' he said.
Sales of the Chongqing-built Focus rose 19 per cent in the year to date to 112,565 units in the first seven months, according to JD Power and Associates data.
With sales of the current version still strong, Ford may consider leaving it on the market after the launch of the new generation Focus.
It is a strategy that rivals on the mainland have employed successfully, like Volkswagen with its Jetta series and Hyundai with the Elantra.
'We would look at all sorts of things like that to see whether it represents an opportunity,' Periam said. 'We study that sort of thing all of the time.'