BEIJING -- Ford Motor Co. unveiled a seven-seat, mid-sized SUV concept at the Beijing motor show which previewed a new vehicle that aims to tap booming demand for crossovers in China.
The Everest is a concept version of an "off-road SUV" that will be built by Ford's Chinese partner Jiangling Motors Co., Ford said. Ford's Asia Pacific design team in Australia developed the vehicle. It sports key Ford design cues, starting from a prominent inverted trapezoid grille.
"Around the world, Ford continues to develop and launch global SUVs of all sizes, to meet the growing and dynamic demands of our customers. They play an important role in driving Ford's growth," Ford China CEO John Lawler said in a statement.
The SUV market in China grew 49 percent last year, according to Ford. "We see tremendous opportunity in this segment over the coming five years," Lawler said.
Ford says its global sales of utility vehicles -- which encompass both SUVs and crossovers -- expanded 37 percent in 2013 to 1.2 million units, compared with 13 percent growth for the segment overall. In China, Ford's share of the utility market surged to 4.5 percent in 2013, with record sales of more than 150,000 vehicles, from 0.3 percent in 2012.
Ford did not detail potential overseas sales plans for an Everest-based vehicle.
Wrap-around headlamps give the Everest what Ford calls a technical, robust look that engenders "interlocking gear cogs."
The body sports a swept-back aerodynamic look. At the rear, designers placed prominent, chiseled tail lamps over a negative scallop. The Everest gets high ground clearance to telegraph off-road potential.
China's crossover market is rapidly expanding but the hottest segment is small crossovers, which are less expensive and more maneuverable in the country's crowded cities.
China's three top-selling SUVs -- the Great Wall Haval H6, Volkswagen Tiguan and Honda CR-V -- are compacts. In fact, nine of the 10 top-selling SUVs last year were compacts.
China's annual light-vehicle sales are growing 10 to 15 percent a year, down from more than 30 percent in 2009 and 2010. In contrast, SUV sales continued to soar more than 40 percent each year.
Ford already has two small entries: the Ford Kuga and EcoSport. A locally made Everest would round out the upper range of the segment.