Ford To Export Edge Crossover To China In December

DETROIT (AP) -- Ford Motor Co. will add the Edge five-door crossover to its Chinese model lineup in December, hoping to gain sales as demand for larger vehicles rises in the world's biggest auto market.

With a growing middle class and better highways, the crossover-sport utility market grew more than 90 percent in the first seven months of this year, Ford said. Crossovers have the space and versatility of truck-based sport utility vehicles but are more efficient and handle better because they are built on car underbodies.

Ford's market research shows that compact four-door sedans are still the top sellers in China, but projections show the market for vehicles like the Edge rising to about 1.5 million this year, said Nigel Harris, vice president of Ford sales and service in China.

About a quarter of buyers say they'll consider the larger five-door vehicles when they replace their compacts, he said. "It's a market clearly that we've got to be in, and something that we're particularly good at," he said.

The five-seat Edge will be Ford's first larger passenger vehicle in China. It joins the Fiesta subcompact, Focus compact, Mondeo midsize car, S-Max small van and the Transit commercial vehicle in the model lineup.

Harris said Ford will add models to the lineup in the future, but would not give specifics. He expects sales growth to continue as the company adds 70 dealers next year to its network of about 400.

Ford expects to sell 4,000 to 5,000 Edges in China per year, exporting them from a factory in Oakville, Ontario, near Toronto. It recently updated the Edge for the U.S. market, making it quieter and more fuel-efficient. In China, it will have the company's Sync system that allows drivers to operate music players and telephones with voice commands in Mandarin.

The Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford is the 11th-ranked brand by sales in the Chinese market, but its sales have risen dramatically since it entered the country. In 2003, its first year in China, Ford sold about 28,000 vehicles, but that number rose to 164,000 last year, Harris said. By contrast, General Motors, the largest U.S.-based automaker in China, sold 1.5 million vehicles in the first eight months of this year.