CHONGQING, China — 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 chief executive Alan Mulally attended a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for the $600 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 sport utility vehicles, which will be made at the new Focus plant in the Chongqing complex starting next year.
China’s auto market last year overtook the United States as the world’s largest, with sales up 32 percent to more than 18 million vehicles. The pace has slowed this year, to an increase of just 2.9 percent in the first six months, but the Chinese market is still expected to be the largest in the world.
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 1,000 people, far below the US level of 800. Some 80 percent of purchases are by first-time buyers.
Ford, which sells seven models in China, is racing to catch up to rivals like General Motors Co. Ford controls about 3 percent of the Chinese market and sells only Ford-branded cars. GM, by contrast, sells 30 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 percent of the Chinese market.