| CHENGDU, China
CHENGDU, China Ford Motor Co (F.N) expects its sales in China to outpace growth in Chinese car market this year as it expands its dealer network, the company's local sales chief said on Wednesday.
Ford, which competes with Toyota Motor (7203.T) and others in the world's largest auto market, is adding 70 dealers in the country, bringing the total to 310 by the end of the year, Nigel Harris told Reuters in an interview.
Ford and its joint ventures in China sold 42 percent more vehicles in the first eight months of 2010 than they did in the same period a year earlier.
That outpaced the overall market, which grew 39 percent.
"We always push for more. We expect to grow faster than the industry," Harris said ahead of an industry forum in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
China remains a bright spot for the global auto industry, which is still struggling to recover from last year's steep downturn, but the market has been losing steam since May after Beijing tapped the policy brakes to keep the economy from overheating.
Many industry executives, including Hu Maoyuan, chairman of top Chinese automaker SAIC Motor Corp (600104.SS), expect China's auto market to return to a slower but more rational growth pattern as early as this year.
Harris said he shared that view.
"Year-on-year growth of 40, 50 percent is not sustainable," he said. "It puts too much pressure on production. It puts too much pressure on the dealer organization. It's really difficult to manage that sort of growth."
Harris said he expected vehicle sales in the country to grow roughly 18 percent in 2010 as frantic sales in 2009 had pushed up the comparative base.
To help drive growth, Ford plans to roll out its Edge sport utility vehicle in China in December, followed by a new generation Focus sedan in 2012.
Harris declined to disclose the price of Edge, whose competing brands include Toyota's Highlander, but he said it would be less than 500,000 yuan ($74,150).
"I will be pretty satisfied if we could sell 300 to 400 units a month," he said.
(Editing by Ted Kerr)