Ford Motor Co is building a sixth plant in China as part of an effort to increase its sales in the world's largest auto market.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally attended a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday for the new $US600 million ($A578 million) assembly plant in the southwestern city of Chongqing. It will have the capacity to make 250,000 vehicles per year when it's finished in late 2014.
The plant is Ford's third in Chongqing, including one that began producing the Ford Focus in February. Ford plans to double its production capacity in China to 1.2 million vehicles by 2015, making this the company's most rapid expansion in 50 years.
Ford hasn't said which vehicles will be made at the new plant, but it will be equipped to make seven different models. Ford is planning to introduce 15 new vehicles here by 2015, including the EcoSport and Kuga small 4WDs, which will be made at the new Focus plant in the Chongqing complex starting next year.
China's car market last year overtook the US as the world's largest, with sales up 32 per cent to more than 18 million vehicles. The pace has slowed this year, to an increase of just 2.9 per cent in the first six months, but the Chinese market is still expected to be the largest in the world.
"Asia Pacific is such a fantastic growth market, even though it has slowed a little bit," Mulally said.
Sales are expected to grow in the coming years as more rural Chinese buy cars for the first time. Even with 30 million cars on the road, China still has just 28 vehicles for every 1000 people, far below the US level of 800. About 80 per cent of purchases are by first-time buyers.
Ford, which sells seven models in China, is racing to catch up to rivals such as General Motors. Ford currently controls about three per cent of the Chinese market and sells only Ford-branded cars. GM, by contrast, sells 30 different vehicles under six brands in China. GM's Chinese market share hasn't been as low as Ford's share since 1998. Last year, GM controlled 14 per cent of the Chinese market.
But Marin Burela, president and CEO of Ford's joint-venture partnership, Changan Ford Mazda Automobile Co, said Ford has grown exponentially since 2003, when it sold just 17,000 vehicles in China. New products and more dealerships will help the company gain market share, he said, especially in the fast-growing cities in western China. Ford had 340 dealerships in China at the end of 2010; it expects to double that by 2015.