Lincoln may be almost a century old but the brand is barely recognized outside of North America. This is something Lincoln is keen to change, so today it is taking the first key step towards establishing itself as a global luxury automotive brand by announcing its entry into the Chinese market.

But putting a luxury face on an automaker in a region where it’s virtually unknown is a tough endeavor, which is why there’s no immediate rush to get Lincoln’s range into showrooms. Chinese customers won’t be able to buy any Lincoln models until the second half of 2014, with the first model expected to be the new MKZ sedan.

The move will represent the largest expansion of a Ford brand in half a century and should help the Blue Oval reach its overall target of increasing global sales to 8 million units by the middle of the decade, an increase of 50 percent over Ford’s global sales tally in 2010, the date when the target was first announced.  

Officials from Ford are currently in China negotiating with potential dealers. The goal is to establish an independent dealer network for Lincoln that will offer a new level of personalized service not currently offered by rivals.

Lincoln is hoping to tap a niche in China where customers buy luxury products for their own personal experience rather than as an object to simply show off with. To differentiate itself, Lincoln plans to offer tailored services to customers as well as a focus on technology and unique product.

Expanding into China is really a no-brainer for any major luxury automaker. The premium segment in China is forecast to surpass the one in the U.S. by 2020, growing to about 2.7 million sales or 9 percent of the Chinese new car market by then. Thus, even with its niche targets, Lincoln’s move into China could prove lucrative.

Serving as general manager for Lincoln’s team in China will be Richard Baker, previously the head of Changan Ford Sales Company, also in China. He will be joined by Pei-wen Hsu, serving as marketing chief, and Joanne Kao, who will serve as sales chief.