Automakers Unveil China-Focused Models in Beijing

By Didi Tang and Joe McDonald

BEIJING -- At a Beijing auto show, Ford Motor (F) on Sunday unveiled an Escort sedan designed in China for global sale, highlighting 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% to as low as 8%, even as newcomers including Lincoln and Tesla (TSLA) enter the market.

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 CEO 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 such as General Motors' (GM) Cadillac unit, to make models sold globally that include features intended to appeal to Chinese tastes. Other manufacturers, 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% from a year earlier, while the overall market grew 7.9%.

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