Ford is catching up to its competitors in key Asian markets and expects to sell more than one million vehicles there for the first time this year, a senior executive said Wednesday.

Key to that growth is China, where Ford's sales were up 51 percent in the first nine months of the year to 647,849 vehicles, said David Schoch, Ford's group vice president for the Asia Pacific region.

“We’re gaining a lot of traction with the new products we’ve brought into China," Schoch told reporters in Detroit.

The second largest US automaker expects to double its market share in China to nearly five percent by the end of this year from 2.5 percent in 2012, he said.

"We expect Ford Asia Pacific to be a major contributor to Ford profits by the middle of the decade," added Schoch.

Schoch acknowledged that Ford was "slow" to enter the Asian market and the current plan to expand in China wasn't put in place until four years ago.

Prior to that, Ford was distracted by a lengthy period of serious financial problems and major reorganization.

Rival General Motors was much faster to move into the Asian market and is expected to sell more than three million vehicles in China alone this year.

Ford is currently building manufacturing hubs in China, India and Thailand and recently relocated its regional headquarters to Shanghai.

While those plants will boost Ford's regional capacity of 1.9 million units -- which vastly exceeds current sales -- the automaker is also moving ahead with the construction of six new regional assembly plants, including four in China.

That will bring total capacity to 2.9 million vehicles by 2015.

"When you're in these emerging markets, you have to think long-term," Schock said.

"We have very aggressive growth targets."

Ford is also expanding the number of models it sells and will soon be introducing the Fiesta, the Mondeo and the Transit Van to the region.

The automaker expects that China -- and the region -- will play an increasingly important role in the global auto industry.

Annual vehicle sales are expected to hit 32 million in China by the end of the decade -- more than in the United States and Europe combined, Schoch said.

Meanwhile, sales in the Asia Pacific region are expected to make up 46 percent of global sales in 2020, up from 41 percent in 2013. Ford also forecasts that global auto sales will rise to 109 million in 2020 from 82 million in 2013.

In addition to China, Ford's Asia Pacific region includes India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines.