Ford Motor Co. plans to launch its Lincoln luxury brand in China in the second half of 2014 as the automaker plays catchup in the world's biggest auto market.
CEO Alan Mulally announced the move last week during a swing through China to break ground on the company's third assembly plant in the city of Chongqing.
The brand will be sold through an independent dealer network, and the company will begin meeting aspiring dealers in the fourth quarter of this year, Ford said in a release.
"Introducing Lincoln in China marks the next step in our expansion in Asia and our commitment to serving customers in the luxury market," Mulally said.
The launch of Lincoln in China comes even as Ford struggles to rebuild the brand in the United States. Global marketing and sales boss Jim Farley said Lincoln will stand out in China by offering more individualized and personalized products.
Ford is a late bloomer in China, but it is moving fast to catch up. It will deliver 15 new Ford-branded vehicles and 20 powertrains by 2015 to Chinese customers. And it is building five plants to double production capacity in China to 1.2 million units a year.
Tapping China's rapidly expanding luxury market is a key element of Mulally's bid to boost Ford's global sales by 50 percent from 2010 to 8 million by the middle of the decade.
The luxury segment there is forecast to surpass the luxury segment in the United States by 2020, Ford said, citing a prediction by IHS. Luxury vehicle sales are expected to more than double -- from 6 percent of the market today to nearly 9 percent by the end of the decade, and annual sales of luxury cars are forecast to be about 2.7 million units by then.
Lincolns to be sold in China initially will be made in North America, the Associated Press reported. Local production will be considered later, depending on sales.
Ford has considered a Lincoln launch in China for two years and designed the 2013 MKZ sedan with Chinese tastes in mind, the AP said, citing Mulally.
Ford follows General Motors in stepping up efforts to compete in China's luxury vehicle market.
GM said in April that it plans to bring in more Cadillac products and increase local production and sales outlets in China to boost sales fivefold and match U.S. deliveries by 2020.
Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz dominate China's luxury vehicle market, accounting for more than three-quarters of high-end cars sold in the country.
Ford is counting on China to help revive Lincoln's growth. The brand's deliveries have tumbled more than 60 percent since their peak two decades ago. Ford plans to roll out seven new Lincoln models by 2015 as it seeks to attract younger, wealthier customers.
Mulally declined to say how much Ford will spend to bring and promote Lincoln. The automaker last week named Richard Baker as general manager for Lincoln in China. Baker had been deputy general manager at Changan Ford Sales Co.
Ford only accounts for 2.4 percent of the country's light-vehicle market, vs. Volkswagen's 19 percent and GM's 10 percent, according to data from industry researcher LMC Automotive. Ford's share of the more lucrative luxury segment is practically nonexistent.
Bloomberg contributed to this report