BEIJING (AP) -- Ford Motor Co. said Thursday sales in China by the company and its local partners soared 44 percent in 2009, highlighting the country's key role in driving demand for global automakers amid weak sales elsewhere.
The announcement, following GM's report of a 67 percent rise in 2009 sales, reflected the impact of Beijing's 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus plan and incentives to boost car purchases.
Industry analysts say China surpassed the United States as the world's biggest auto market in 2009, with total sales forecast as high as 12.7 million units, well above U.S. sales of 10.4 million reported Wednesday.
Ford, based in Dearborn, Michigan, said total 2009 sales by its wholly owned entities in China and its local joint ventures were 440,619 units.
Beijing has helped to boost auto purchases with tax cuts and subsidies for drivers to shift to cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars. Most of that aid has gone to Chinese makers of smaller cars, though foreign producers also see sales rising.
Ford said it will expand its China dealer network in 2010 and start a new warranty program. At a time when automakers are cutting back operations in some other markets, Ford said in September it would spend $490 million to build a third Chinese factory.
Global automakers are looking to first-time buyers in smaller Chinese cities to help drive sales as incomes outside the country's prosperous east coast rise.
Ford said its Chinese passenger car joint venture, Changan Ford Mazda Automobile Co., saw 2009 sales rise 55 percent from a year earlier to 315,791 units. The company said sales of its Mondeo and S-MAX models rose 39 and 125 percent, respectively, in the fourth quarter.
The company's commercial vehicle venture, Jiangling Motors Corporation, sold 114,688 units.