BEIJING: Ford, the US automaker, is hoping to sell close to 1m vehicles in China this year and to challenge its Japanese rivals, although it will still remain some way behind General Motors and Volkswagen.

Ford announced it had sold 647,849 vehicles during the first nine months of the year, up 51% on the previous year and a Ford official was confident that 900,000 vehicles would be sold by the end of the year, Reuters reported.

Analysts said that "sales have been growing in leaps and bounds" since the company overhauled its product range. Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai-based consulting firm Automotive Foresight, anticipated that Ford's current momentum would continue to the end of the year and become "even stronger" next year.

Japanese car brands are slowly recovering from a burst of anti-Japan sentiment last year when China and Japan were disputing ownership of a group of islands in the East China Sea.

Toyota is forecasting sales of around 900,000 vehicles for the year, while Honda is looking at 750,000. Nissan is targeting a 6% increase to 1.25m. All three registered significant growth in September as volumes returned to something approaching normal levels.

But John Zeng, managing director at consulting firm LMC Automotive, noted that the islands dispute remained unresolved. "As long as the tension exists, Japanese car makers will remain conservative in China," he told the Wall Street Journal.

Japanese manufacturers have moved to address the issue by launching low-cost models to attract less wealthy buyers, at the same time as putting greater emphasis on aftermarket services.

The latter may in part have been driven by impending regulation, as, the Lawyer reported, the Chinese government has introduced new national rules governing the repair, replacement and return of automobiles and defective automotive parts.

Among the leading manufacturers, General Motors expected to sell more than 3m vehicles in China this year and Volkswagen Group 3.2m, while Hyundai was set to reach 1.6m.

Data sourced from Reuters, Wall Street Journal, The Lawyer; additional content by Warc staff