SHANGHAI -- Ford Motor Co. is chasing General Motors in China, and it's counting on the Focus to gain ground.
But the sedan, which was launched several weeks ago, is in the most competitive segment in China.
"The Focus will be critically important to us in China," says David Thomas, vice president of distribution for Ford Motor (China).
The Focus is the third Ford nameplate assembled here. The first, the subcompact Fiesta, has been a flop. Sales fell 52.0 percent in the first seven months from the year-ago period, to 6,275 units, according to Automotive Resources Asia, a Shanghai consulting firm.
The second, the Mondeo full-sized sedan, has been a modest success. Sales rose 1.2 percent in the first seven months, to 19,948 units.
GM sells about five times more domestically assembled vehicles in China than Ford. Shanghai GM sold 252,058 domestically made cars in China in 2004; Changan Ford sold 47,119.
Ford started local production in China in 2003; GM began in 1999.
The intermediate-sized car segment, which includes the Focus, grew by a healthy 13.9 percent in the first seven months of 2005 to 595,751 units, according to Automotive Resources. And Chinese consumers know the Focus from the Internet and numerous auto magazines here.
"I think (the Focus) will have a lot of potential," says Yale Zhang, director of emerging markets vehicle forecasts for CSM Asia in Shanghai.
Ford's 2005 Focus sales target is a modest 8,000 units.
Dealers already have more than 2,000 orders for the Focus, says Thomas.
"We believe that the Focus is coming to China at just the right time. The B and C segments (small and intermediate-sized vehicles) are the biggest segments in the market, and they will continue to be," he says.
Ford won't forecast 2006 sales. "We have a lot of learning in this segment," says Phil Spender, president of Changan Ford Automobile Co., Ford's joint venture with the Changan Automobile Group.
And as demand shifts to China's poorer inland cities and gasoline prices rise, demand for smaller cars is increasing while sales of intermediate-sized vehicles slow.
In addition, competition in the Focus' segment is fierce. The Buick Excelle, Chevrolet Sail, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Cerato, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf and Bora, Nissan Tiida and Sunny, Peugeot 307 and Mazda Familia already vie for customers in China.
The Focus is competitively priced. Three models, equipped with either a 1.8-liter engine or a 2.0-liter engine, are on sale in China. They are priced from 129,800 yuan to 175,800 yuan, or about $16,000 to $21,725 at current exchange rates.
Among competitors, the Excelle is priced from about $13,900 to $20,800, and the Elantra sells for about $13,400 to $18,300.
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