Like other major automakers, Ford is looking to emerging markets for growth lost in the U.S. and other traditional strongholds. It expects 70 percent of growth in its sales to come from the Asian-Pacific and African regions over the next decade.
The automaker inaugurated 40 new dealerships Thursday out of 66 it will open before the end of the year. In 2010 it plans to have opened a total of 100 dealerships.
China's car market is the world's biggest and sales are growing fastest in the provincial cities as the benefits of the country's economic boom spread from its east coast to the interior where millions of new and potential car buyers live.
"When you think about China, it's the central, western and northern areas that will see the most aggressive growth," Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford, Asia Pacific and Africa, and chairman and CEO of Ford China said in a phone interview.
Ford is forecasting record sales in China this year, though it got a later start and has a smaller presence here than rival General Motors Co.
The company earlier reported its China sales in January-October surged 39 percent to 468,754 vehicles.
"It's been an interesting year, with a very strong first quarter and fourth quarter, though sales slowed down a bit in the summer. It's a bit of a 'U' shape," Hinrichs said.
Tax cuts and subsidies for energy-efficient vehicles helped spur sales of minivans and other small cars last year, making China the global leader in sales of new vehicles. This year, demand for bigger vehicles and imported models has rebounded as car owners upgraded.
Passenger car sales rose 36 percent over a year earlier during the first 10 months of the year, to 11.1 million vehicles, according to the China Passenger Car Association.
Growth in industry-wide sales in 2011 is forecast at what experts say is a more sustainable 10-15 percent.
Ford marked Thursday's new openings with a celebration in Nanning, a city in southern China well beyond the traditional big markets in Beijing, Shanghai and other eastern coastal cities. Some dealerships are opening even in county seats that normally are not served by major automakers.
The company expects record sales for the Asian-Pacific and African regions this year, having sold 731,724 vehicles in those areas from January-October, up 39 percent from a year earlier.
Back in the U.S., Ford's sales rose 19.2 percent in October, as industry sales showed their strongest growth so far this year thanks to growing confidence in the economy and buyer interest in new models.