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Ford Says Auto Industry Sales Stabilizing

Automaker’s global marketing chief said Wednesday that the nation's automobile industry is beginning to stabilize after months of freefalling sales.

CHICAGO (AP) -- An executive at Ford Motor Co. said the nation's automobile industry is beginning to stabilize, after months of freefalling sales which have threatened the viability of some of the sector's biggest players.

Jim Farley, Ford's global marketing chief, said Wednesday that seasonally adjusted retail sales demand has held steady for the past four months. Meanwhile, the country's used car market has come "roaring back" since January.

"That shows me that credit's available," he said, following a Ford presentation at the Chicago Auto Show. "When we're seeing the kind of growth in the used car market that we've seen in the last six weeks, that is a really important milestone for the bottoming out of the industry."

But on the heels of another calamitous month for the sector -- U.S. new car and truck sales fell 37 percent in January, hurt especially by poor sales to rental car companies -- few are willing to say whether or not the industry's seen the worst of the recession's impact.

Still, auto industry analyst Erich Merkle said he thinks the industry may have reached finally reached a tentative plateau, particularly if labor markets can stabilize.

"We're really at that crucial inflection point right now," he said. "And with all the money right now that's being pumped into the system ... I think that we'll start to see some revival in our economy and we'll start to see sales on a sequential basis exceed that of the first quarter."

But that doesn't mean the sector is headed toward a substantial rebound just yet.

"I think what we're going to do here for the next couple of months is trace along the bottom," he said. "And as we get to the second half, we'll see some improvement."

Meanwhile, Ford's Farley wouldn't give detail on how February sales are shaping up, but said sales so far are mirroring trends seen last month.

"It seems like we're kind of humming along at the same pace this month," he said.

In January, Ford said its U.S. sales fell 40 percent, but sales of its F-series pickup trucks and Fusion midsize sedan helped the company post its fourth consecutive month of higher retail market share. Ford said it sold 93,060 light vehicles in the U.S. last month, compared with 155,832 in January 2008. Light vehicle sales exclude heavy trucks.

Farley's comments came as the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker introduced its latest in a series of new products, including a Harley-Davidson F-150 truck, Transit Connect, a small commercial van that has had success in Europe and a newly revamped 2010 Taurus.

The Super High Output (SHO) Taurus is equipped with 365 horsepower and a V6 engine. With Ford's EcoBoost technology, the direct injection, turbocharged engine allows drivers to experience V8 engine power, but with V6 fuel economy, the company said.

Ford shares climbed a penny to $1.83 in afternoon trading Wednesday.

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