Ford Motor Company says China's Geely is the leader in the thinly populated race for Volvo Cars.

In a release, the world's fourth-largest automaker said that the Geely consortium would enter "more detailed and focused negotiations" to sell the Swedish car company to the Chinese automaker.

Ford has had Volvo on the market since last year, when it began dismantling its global empire assembled in the past decade. Aston Martin was the first to go, sold to an investment group including former executives and Kuwaiti financiers; then Jaguar and Land Rover were sold to India's Tata.

Now, China's emerging influence in global car design and marketing seems set to grow as Ford focuses on Geely's Volvo bid.

“Ford believes Geely has the potential to be a responsible future owner of Volvo and to take the business forward while preserving its core values and the independence of the Swedish brand," the company said in a release. It also says it does not intend to keep any stake in Volvo after a sale, though it may cooperate on products--which would give Ford a link to Geely and its growing Chinese presence.

Ford is giving itself a loophole with Geely, saying that "no final decisions have been made." The American company is said to be concerned over intellectual-property rights and the technologies it's developed with Volvo going directly to China's auto industry--everything from safety equipment to plug-in hybrid technology. However, Ford has been moving to develop new cars for its global empire from within; new North American Fords like the 2012 Focus, for example, will come directly from Europe.

As for Volvo, the company recently unveiled its 2010 XC60 crossover and a refreshed C70 Convertible, with a new S60 sedan to come early next year. Sources at the company have told TheCarConnection that a future relationship with China would leave Sweden as the center of conception and marketing for vehicles globally, while Chinese engineers could execute the mid-level engineering and manufacturing development. Volvo would also produce a model in a Geely factory in China to expand the brand's global presence.

Ford gave no timeline to complete a sale.

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