DETROIT, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co F.N said on Monday it expects industrywide U.S. light vehicle sales to be up slightly in 2008 from the previous year, putting the sector on track for its worst sales year in a decade.
Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally told reporters the automaker sees 2008 U.S. light vehicle sales between 16.3 million and 16.5 million units in 2008.
“We’ve laid out our plans to handle that kind of volume,” he said. Light vehicle sales include cars, sport utility vehicles and most pickup trucks, but excludes heavy-duty work trucks.
Most analysts expect U.S. auto sales in 2007 to come in between 16 million and 16.1 million vehicles, which would be the worst performance since 1998, when the tally was 15.69 mln units.
U.S. auto sales this year have been hurt by a meltdown in the subprime mortgage market and high gas prices.
Ford’s U.S. sales slid 13 percent in the first nine months of this year to 1.98 million vehicles from 2.29 million vehicles a year earlier, partly because of the planned reduction in discounted sales to car rental companies.
The automaker, which lost its No. 2 spot in the U.S. market to Toyota this year, is working to hold its overall share of the U.S. light-vehicle market at about 14 percent. It is also shutting 16 plants and cutting more than 50,000 jobs.
Ford’s current U.S. market share is about 16 percent. It has lost about 1 percentage point of its share every year since 2000, as consumers moved away from heavier and less fuel-efficient SUVs.
Mulally said the automaker appears to be stabilizing its U.S. market share.
He also told reporters on the sidelines of an event to celebrate the production launch of the redesigned Focus car, that the automaker is on track to turn a profit in North America in 2009.
Separately, the president of Ford’s Americas unit, Mark Fields, said its U.S. October sales were up slightly from a year earlier.
“They are up a little bit so far,” he said, adding that the figures could change “quite a bit” in the last 10 days of the month.
Fields also said the U.S. pickup truck segment, which has been hurt by weakness in the housing market, has stabilized in the last couple months. (Additional reporting by Jui Chakravorty, editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)
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