* Lincoln vehicles currently imported into China
* Their sales jumped nearly 180 pct in 2016, says company (Adds details from statement and background)
BEIJING, March 13 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co’s luxury unit Lincoln plans to produce luxury SUVs in China by late 2019, as it steps up its move into the world’s largest auto market and aims to catch up with German and U.S. rivals who already manufacture in the Asian nation.
The plan is to build an all-new sports utility vehicle (SUV) to suit Chinese tastes, Lincoln China said in a statement. Ford plans to use an existing assembly plant it jointly operates with Chongqing Changan Automobile Co Ltd to produce the Lincoln vehicles, a Ford spokesman in Shanghai said.
Lincoln vehicles are currently imported into China, and their sales have jumped nearly 180 percent in 2016, the statement said.
“The move to local production is a key next step in Lincoln’s evolution in China and will complement continued imports from North America,” it said.
The statement gave no other details about the plans. The Ford spokesman declined to give the model’s anticipated production volume or describe the model other than to say it is an SUV.
The Changan-Ford joint venture is in the process of getting approval for this move to produce Lincoln vehicles locally in China, said the spokesman.
Lincoln China President Amy Marentic told Reuters in October that the brand was studying whether to produce cars locally in China.
Lincoln was accelerating its entry into China with plans to have 65 Lincoln stores by the end of 2016, instead of previous plans of 60, with 80 planned for year-end 2017, she said.
Marentic said the company would also open five to 10 smaller sales branches to tap into fast-growing auto sales in lower-tier Chinese cities. (Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Muralikumar Anantharaman)