BEIJING -- Ford Motor Co. launched the Lincoln Navigator luxury SUV in China in May, betting that China's rich will buy vehicles even as the overall market slows.
"We position the Navigator as the ultimate symbol of power and luxury," says Qiu Fei, product marketing director at Ford Motor (China) Ltd.
Navigators sold in China will be imported from Ford's plant in Wayne, Mich., and priced at 738,000 yuan, or $89,200 at current exchange rates.
The SUV is being sold in 23 Lincoln dealerships in 19 cities.
Ford isn't saying how many Navigators it expects to sell in China. But "dozens" have been registered with the traffic authorities in Shanghai since May 27, says Ford Motor (China) spokesman Kenneth Hsu.
Competitors such as the imported BMW X5 or Volvo XC90 generally each sell fewer than 2,000 units a year in China.
While the market for such high-end SUVs may be small, margins are high.
Meanwhile, margins are shrinking in the domestically produced car market because of a price war and high material prices.
Ford assembles the $12,000 Fiesta and the $27,000 Mondeo at its Changan Ford joint venture in Chongqing, China. Ford also imports the Maverick entry-level SUV, which is sold as the Escape in the United States.
Car sales in China are slowing. Most automakers expect the market to increase by about 10 percent this year compared with 16 percent in 2004. Changan Ford sold 13,728 units in the first four months of 2005, down 5 percent from the year-ago period.
But sales of imported luxury models are not affected by overall trends, says Ashvin Chotai, head of Asian automotive industry research for Global Insight in London.
The Navigator's launch was held in an art gallery in Shanghai's swanky "3 on the Bund" building in conjunction with the opening of an exhibit by eight contemporary artists.
"The Chinese market is still a status market; people want these high status symbols," says Philippe Coquelle, director of automotive research for marketing information company ACNielsen in China.
The local media already are impressed. A reporter in the Chinese-language Motor Trend magazine wrote: "Seeing the Navigator on the street, you are unavoidably cowed into submission by the model's shocking power."
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