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Ford to Focus $1.8 Billion on China Smart Cars

SHANGHAI— Ford Motor Co. F -0.13 % is betting that a new generation of smart cars will help its rides stand out in China, where its sales have been slipping amid industrywide weakness and rising competition.

The U.S. car marker said on Monday it will invest 11.4 billion yuan, or $1.8 billion, over the next five years to research how to add greater smartphone connectivity, autonomous driving and other smart car features to its Chinese products. With that investment, the next generation of Ford vehicles for China will be designed around customers there, said Ford Chief Executive Mark Fields.

Ford is hoping the R&D spending push in China will help it develop smart-car features specifically tailored to Chinese drivers. Currently Ford is seeking to install smart-car systems in China using technology it developed and uses in other markets.

“We see China as a very big growth market,” he said on Monday. “It’s a great opportunity to grow not only our core business of selling cars and trucks but also provide services to people that may not want a car but still want to be mobile.”

Potential features include allowing drivers to control more car...