BEIJING -- With the future of Ford Motor Co.’s lagging luxury line riding on China, the automaker will expand its bet on the market by building a new Lincoln SUV in the country in late 2019.
The still-unnamed SUV would expand Ford’s foothold in one of the hottest segments in China, a country CEO Mark Fields has said could be Lincoln’s largest market by the end of the decade. It will be produced with joint-venture partner Changan Automobile Group in the city of Chongqing.
Ford has been pouring $2.5 billion into overhauling Lincoln with new models such as the Continental flagship sedan, which helped boost sales in the U.S. by 10 percent last year following decades of decline.
But its salvation may lay outside North America. Ford has said its research shows the Lincoln name -- dogged in the U.S. by years of work as an airport shuttle -- holds enough cachet in China to rival local leaders such as Audi.
“China is incredibly important to Lincoln,” said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with car-shopping website Autotrader.com. “They have shown they can do fairly well there and that it holds great potential.”
Lincoln entered the Chinese market just two years ago. By the end of 2016, it had 65 dealerships and sales tripled to 32,558 cars and SUVs, almost one third of the brand’s U.S. sales total.
By building in China, Lincoln will avoid 25 percent in customs taxes the country imposes on imported vehicles. The duties drive up the cost of models such as the Navigator SUV, which starts at 988,800 yuan ($143,000), more than twice its U.S. price. A redesigned version of the Navigator, Lincoln’s most recognizable nameplate in China, will be introduced at the New York auto show next month and arrive in showrooms this year.
A Ford spokeswoman declined to comment on plans for more Lincoln models to be built in China, or on how much the company will invest to produce the brand locally.