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Ford seeking global sales for its new China models

Despite nation’s slowdown, it’s driving design

The Ford Escort was designed to appeal to Chinese tastes, with a bigger back seat for children and grandparents.

Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

The Ford Escort was designed to appeal to Chinese tastes, with a bigger back seat for children and grandparents.

BEIJING — Ford Motor Co. on Sunday unveiled a new Escort sedan designed in China for global sale at a Beijing auto show that highlighted the growing influence of Chinese tastes on the industry.

Automakers are looking to China’s biggest auto show this year to help boost sales in this huge but cooling market. Total sales last year reached 17.9 million vehicles, but growth is expected to slow from 15.7 percent to as low as 8 percent, even as newcomers including Lincoln and Tesla enter the market.

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The new Escort, a compact sedan with a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine, was designed at Ford’s development center in China with features to appeal to local tastes. They include a bigger back seat for children and grandparents, lighter colors, and cup holders made to fit iced tea bottles. The Escort goes on sale in China this year, expanding later to other markets, said chief executive Alan Mulally. ‘‘I think it will sell around the world,’’ Mulally said. ‘‘But the real focus was led by the Chinese and what they wanted.’’

Ford joins a trend led by brands including GM’s Cadillac unit that include features intended to appeal to Chinese tastes in models sold globally. Others such as Daimler Benz AG’s Mercedes-Benz are breaking from the industry trend of selling the same vehicles everywhere and are reworking models for sale in China with added back seat room and other features. That is squeezing ambitious but inexperienced Chinese independent brands. Their first-quarter sales shrank 2.6 percent from a year earlier, while the overall market grew 7.9 percent.

Also this weekend, GM debuted a new version of the Chevrolet Cruze and displayed its Trax SUV, targeting China’s booming sport utility market. Chinese SUV maker Great Wall Motors Co. unveiled its latest model, the Haval 8.

China’s annual auto shows, held in Beijing and Shanghai in alternating years, have grown into some of the industry’s most important commercial events. Relatively strong Chinese sales helped to support the global industry while the United States and Europe slumped following the 2008 financial crisis.

GM, with its Chinese joint venture partners, is in the midst of a $12 billion investment campaign through 2017 to expand production.

Matt Tsien, GM China president, said the company will open three new factories this year — two in Shenyang and one in Chongqing — and two more next year, including one for Cadillac production. He said that is expected to raise production capacity to 5 million units by the end of 2015.

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