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By John Porretto / AP Auto Writer

LAS VEGAS -- A top Ford Motor Co. executive predicts record industry sales for the automaker’s F-Series pickups in 2004, but he said it would strain the company’s ability to make enough of the top-selling vehicles.

Speaking to reporters Sunday at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention, Ford Division President Steve Lyons said the company should sell at least 912,000 F-Series trucks this year, eclipsing its own industry mark for full-size pickups of 911,597 in 2001.

Last year, Ford sold 845,586 F-Series trucks.

The gem of Ford’s F-Series lineup is the F-150, which accounts for roughly 60 percent of the Series’ total sales. Ford launched a new version of the F-150 in September and said it was the key to double-digit, year-over-year sales increases for F-Series trucks in September, October, November and December.

Ford has said it hopes to sell 1 million F-Series trucks annually once plants are at full production.

Ford builds the new F-150 at plants in Norfolk, Va., and Kansas City, Mo., but production at a new factory in Dearborn, Mich., outside Detroit, is not expected to begin until midyear.

As such, Lyons said the 1 million mark is not realistic this year. Depending on the market, sales could reach 920,000 to 925,000, he said.

“Frankly, we’ll run out of production capacity at some point,” Lyons said.

Ford said in December the redesigned F-150 was providing a bigger lift to its finances than expected, and the company hopes to continue that by trimming $1,000 from the truck’s production costs by the end of 2004.

Ford officials said dealers had sold more high-end versions of the truck than anticipated since its debut. The trucks also are carrying lower consumer incentives on average than the competition, they said.

F-Series pickups are the best-selling vehicles in the United States and account for one-quarter of Ford’s sales. Ford executives have said the new F-150 likely is the most important new product for Ford since the Taurus helped the company emerge from a sea of red ink in the late 1980s.
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