By Norihiko Shirouzu and Yilei Sun
BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. carmaker Ford Motor Co (:F - News) unveiled a new China sport utility vehicle (SUV) on Tuesday, and said its plan to release a spate of new models will help turn around tumbling sales in the world's top auto market from the start of next year.
Ford, fighting to recover from a severe sales slump in China, will start selling the entry-level SUV, called the "Territory", early next year. The car is jointly developed with local partner Jiangling Motors Corp Ltd (JMC) (Shenzhen:000550.SZ - News).
The car, based on a no-frills model from JMC, is aimed at appealing to consumers in China's smaller, so-called lower-tier cites, which have been a major engine of growth in the market over the last decade. It would compete with models from local firms like Geely (HKSE:0175.HK - News) and Great Wall Motor (Shanghai:601633.SS - News).
The SUV is one of the 50 new or redesigned vehicles Ford has said it plans to launch in China starting this year and through 2025, which include the redesigned Ford Focus car due to hit showrooms later in 2018.
"All these vehicles - the Ford Territory, the Ford Focus and the Ford Escort... they will all start to make their volume retail contributions in the first quarter (of 2019)", Peter Fleet, Ford's China and Asia chief, told reporters on a call.
Still, Ford's new SUV hits the market at a time demand for such cars in smaller cities across China has started to cool. China's car sales fell the most in nearly seven years in September, hit by cooling economic growth.
Ford's vehicle sales fell 43 percent in September from a year earlier and are down 30 percent in the first nine months of 2018 from the same period last year. Ford blames its weak China business on an aging model lineup that is awaiting an overhaul.
Fleet, talking from the Chinese port city of Qingdao where he was showing off the new SUV for the first time, brushed off concerns about slowing growth in small cities, and said Ford's 650 local dealers would help the model succeed.
"It's still of course an enormous industry. With Ford's relatively low market share it still presents an enormous opportunity for Ford," he said.
He added the firm was not currently seeing any impact from a blistering trade war between China and the United States, which had seen some imported Ford and Lincoln brand cars held up at Chinese ports earlier this year.
"We did earlier in the year (have) some slowdown which was reported. We have none of those issues currently on customs clearance."
(Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu and Yilei Sun; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Christopher Cushing)