April 10, 2018 / 11:16 AM / 8 months ago

UPDATE 1-Ford to launch five new, redesigned car models in China in 2018

* New models part of goal to launch over 50 by 2025

* Ford China sales fell 6 pct last year vs market's 3 pct rise (Adds comments from Ford official, analyst)

By Norihiko Shirouzu

BEIJING, April 10 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co, struggling to revive sales in China, on Tuesday unveiled five new models for the world's biggest auto market, part of a business revitalization effort centred around a plan to launch over 50 new or redesigned vehicles by 2025.

All five models are expected to hit showrooms in China "later this year", said a Ford spokesman. The company unveiled the models at an event in Chongqing.

The five new models are sedan and hatchback versions of the redesigned Focus car, sedan and hatchback versions of the sporty Focus ST-Line model, as well as the redesigned Escort car.

"These launches are a testament to Ford's ongoing commitment to China's critical midsize car market," Peter Fleet, group vice president and head of Ford's Asia-Pacific operations, said in a statement.

Ford's new sedans and hatchbacks are to hit a Chinese marketplace where consumers have been clamouring for crossover sport-utility vehicles (SUVs), which along with multi-purpose vehicles such as minivans now account for nearly one half of China's demand for passenger vehicles.

Market experts nevertheless believe sedans are still critical to automakers' business in China.

"Compact sedans still account for 35 percent of overall passenger vehicle sales. A good mainstream sedan is still very important to a carmaker's business in China," said Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight.

Zhang said SUVs have been red-hot in China, but growth rates have slowed considerably in recent months to slightly more than 10 percent a year.

Ford has been gearing up for a new product blitz for some time as part of an effort to reverse a recent sales slump.

Ford sales fell 6 percent last year even as overall vehicle sales in China rose 3 percent.

Ford's sales in China during the first two months of this year were down 23 percent. The company is expected to announce its March sales results on Friday.

By 2025, Fleet has said the U.S. automaker plans to boost China revenue by 50 percent from 2017 levels, leveraging the more than 50 new or redesigned products it plans to launch here over the next several years.

Those new cars include 15 electric vehicles, Fleet has said. (Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Christopher Cushing)

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