Ford's Indian unit on Wednesday reportedly said it expects domestic sales to jump about 50% this year as it launched a new model that blends a sedan with a sports utility vehicle (SUV) for a growing lifestyle market.

David Friedman, managing director of Ford India Pvt Ltd, told Reuters the company expected to sell 27,000 Ikon sedans in India in 2004, up from 18,500 in the previous year.

The Ikon is a 'booted' sedan version of the previous-generation European Ford Fiesta hatchback and is sold in 'developing' markets such as India and Mexico.

"We have seen that the market is quite healthy and we are hoping to see 17% growth in the market as a whole," Friedman said, adding Ford's own sales would sharply outpace industry growth.

The new 1.6 litre engine five-door sedan-SUV crossover model, named the Fusion, is expected to sell 500-1,000 units a month after its launch in about 15 weeks, Ford officials told the news agency. The price has not been announced yet.

With this model, already on European roads, Ford reportedly aims to create a new market segment in an urban category where consumers look for both style and sturdy outdoor-oriented features.

Ford expects to sell 2,000 units of its Endeavour SUV, which was launched last December, and about 10 cars every month of its imported Mondeo saloons, Friedman told Reuters, which noted that Ford has so far sold 180,000 Ikons since the Indian launch in 1999.

Friedman reportedly said Indian car sales are expected to touch one million in 2007 from an estimated 820,000 in 2004.

The sedan-meets-SUV model will at once challenge a clutch of sedans and SUVs in the evolving Indian market. Fiat, Hyundai Motor and Maruti Udyog, majority owned by Suzuki Motor, are among the main competitors in the mid-sized segment.

Reuters noted that the Toyota Qualis is a key player in India's 'utility vehicle' segment, where Ford's new car will also vie with models made by locals Mahindra & Mahindra and Tata Motors.