Automakers are looking to China's biggest auto show this year to help boost sales in this huge but cooling market.

Total sales last year reached 17.9 million vehicles, but growth is expected to slow from 15.7 percent to as low as 8 per cent, even as newcomers including Lincoln and Tesla enter the market.

The new Escort, a compact sedan with a 1.4-litre, four-cylinder engine, was designed at Ford's development centre in China with features to appeal to local tastes.

They include a bigger back seat for children and grandparents, lighter colours and cup holders made to fit iced tea bottles.

The Escort goes on sale in China this year, expanding later to other markets, said CEO Alan Mulally.

"I think it will sell around the world," Mulally said. "But the real focus was led by the Chinese and what they wanted."

Ford joins a trend led by brands including GM's Cadillac unit that include features intended to appeal to Chinese tastes in models sold globally.