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Ford Motor pushes into China with luxury sedan

Ford Motor in China, Chinese market

Last April, Ford Motor announced with fanfare that it would reintroduce its storied Lincoln Continental luxury sedan, with an eye on sales in the expanding Chinese market. But now, as Ford prepares to put the Continental on the market, it faces a far different economic landscape.


While the car is expected to bolster Ford's efforts to reinvigorate the Lincoln brand in the United States, its prospects in China are clouded by an upheaval in the stock market there and a general slowdown in auto sales.


At the unveiling of the production version of the Continental on Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show, Ford executives said they were undaunted by the economic troubles in China and were pressing ahead with their plans.


"We are in China for the long term," said Kumar Galhotra, the Ford executive in charge of the Lincoln division. "It's a very vibrant economy that's going to have short-term ups and downs."


He said Lincoln sales in China had grown steadily since the brand entered the market in November 2014. Last year, sales topped 11,000 vehicles, but Lincoln had limited recognition among most Chinese consumers.


And despite the fluctuations in the Chinese stock market over the last six months and the ripple effect on wealthy car buyers, Mr. Galhotra said he had not seen any effect on the pace of sales.


"We are ahead both in our volume targets and our dealership targets," he said.


In the United States, where it will also go on sale this year, the sedan has a long history, having epitomized elegance in the 1960s before it faded into obscurity and went out of production in 2002.


Ford sold 101,000 Lincolns in the United States last year, an increase of 7 percent from 2014.


The model will be a notable addition to the brand's American lineup, but it is meant to be a linchpin in Ford's broader ambitions for the Lincoln in China.


So far, the company has 33 Lincoln dealers in China, with a goal of 60 by the end of the year. With the addition of the Continental, Lincoln will have five models available in China, which Ford's chief executive, Mark Fields, called "meaningful progress" for a fledgling brand.


Because Ford dropped Continental from the Lincoln portfolio more than a decade ago, the company's designers had unusual freedom to update the vehicle's styling and image.


To that end, Ford chose to create a car designed as a quiet sanctuary from the outside world. Its designers went to great lengths to include creature comforts that distinguish the Continental from others in the crowded luxury sedan market, like seats that have individual leg adjustments and can provide a massage with the touch of a button.


Mr. Fields said the car would find its own niche among more established models sold by BMW and Volkswagen's Audi brand. "We are not trying to out-German the Germans," he said.


One analyst said Lincoln could benefit from carving out a new identity in the luxury market.


"There is absolutely a place in the market for a vehicle that promises quiet luxury," said the analyst, Eric Lyman of the research firm TrueCar. "The challenge for Continental will be awareness and perception of the Lincoln brand."



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