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By Sarah Karush / Associated Press

DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. saw sales of new cars and trucks decline 9.8 percent in January but remained optimistic that a new car lineup would change its fortunes.

U.S. car sales of the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands were down 20.1 percent compared to January 2003. Truck sales fell 4.7 percent, despite the continuing success of the F-150 pickup.

Other automakers were expected to report January sales later Tuesday.

Jim O’Connor, Ford’s vice president for North American marketing, sales and service, expressed confidence that the company’s new lineup of cars would yield results by the end of 2004.

“We’re committed to pursuing a product and market strategy that will result in stronger retail sales performance,” O’Connor said in a statement. “Today we are benefiting from the all- new F-150 and a strong lineup of sport utility vehicles. By year end, we expect to see stronger retail performance in passenger cars.”

The automaker’s F-series trucks posted record January sales of 61,979, up 9.6 percent.

“The most painful declines from the standpoint of our overall performance are the midsize cars, the Ford Taurus and the Mercury Sable,” Ford sales analyst George Pipas said in a conference call with investors. “Painful in the sense that mid-size cars still represent about 20 percent of total new vehicle sales in the United States.”

Taurus sales fell 26.6 percent, and Sable sales were down 47.1 percent.

But Pipas reiterated that “help is on the way” in the form of two new mid-size sedans, the Ford Five Hundred and the Mercury Montego.

Also going on sale this year, which Ford has dubbed “the year of the car,” are a redesigned Focus, a new Mustang, and the crossover Freestyle wagon.

The car introductions mark a shift for Ford, which like other U.S. automakers, has put most of its emphasis on pickups and SUVs in recent years, losing ground in the car market to Japanese companies.

Analysts expected January sales results to be tempered by frigid weather in parts of the country, despite brisk business at the beginning of the month.
 
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