Ford Motor is to launch its Lincoln brand in China in an effort to tap into the country’s growing sales of premium cars, as part of a broader push to rejuvenate the straggling upscale marque.
The US carmaker said that it would sell Lincoln cars in China from the second half of 2014. The move would mark the nameplate’s first foray outside North America and Ford said it aimed to establish Lincoln “as a brand with global appeal”.
Alan Mulally, Ford’s chief executive, had in the past spoken of moving Lincoln overseas but said the brand needed to reestablish itself in the US first.
Lincoln’s sales peaked in 1990 but the brand has lagged behind competitors more recently because Ford was unwilling to invest enough in it. Its sales were flat in the US last year on an overall car market that grew by 10 per cent.
Ford – which since 2007 has sold its overseas premium brands Aston Martin, Jaguar Land Rover and Volvo, and killed its US Mercury marque in 2010 – is now looking to revive Lincoln’s fortunes.
In January the carmaker unveiled a new, sharper-looking version of Lincoln’s upper-midsize MKZ aimed at appealing to younger buyers, which is due to go on sale later this year.
Ford took Chinese consumers into account when designing the car and says it plans to launch seven more all-new or revamped Lincolns over the next three years.
“The neatest thing about the Lincoln brand today is that very quietly, without a lot of fanfare, we have been including the Chinese customers’ tastes in the development of the Lincoln brand,” Mr. Mulally said.
He said that Ford would import US-built Lincolns to China at first, but would consider producing them there in future if customer demand warranted it.
Ford cited industry forecast predicting that luxury car sales in China would account for about 10 per cent of the global total by 2020, making it a bigger market for the cars than the US.
“I definitely believe this brand should have pretty good demand in China,” Yale Zhang, head of Automotive Foresight, a Shanghai-based consultancy, said of Lincoln. “The overall market is slowing down, but a lot of people are upgrading to premium vehicles.”
China has proved to be a receptive market for other car brands perceived as being past their prime in the US. General Motors now sells more Buick cars in China than it does in the US.
German brands Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are China’s top-selling premium brands but other carmakers including UK-based Jaguar Land Rover are seeking to boost their sales and shares there too.