North America revs up Ford results

Ford has reported net income 15 per cent higher in the first quarter at $US1.6 billion, as record results in North America compensated for losses in Europe and South America.

Ford has reported net income 15 per cent higher in the first quarter at $US1.6 billion, as record results in North America compensated for losses in Europe and South America.

Two other big carmakers, Daimler and PSA Peugeot Citroen, said they expected weak sales in Europe to drag down their profits throughout this year.

Ford, America's second-largest carmaker after General Motors, said revenue grew 10 per cent in the quarter to $US35.8 billion and its market share continued to increase in the US.

Despite unsettled conditions in international markets, the company reiterated forecasts that its full-year profit would at least match its performance last year.

"Our strong first-quarter results provide further proof that our One Ford plan continues to deliver," said Ford chief executive Alan Mulally.

Ford said that strong sales in its core North American market had propelled it to its 15th consecutive profitable quarter.

Sales in the US rose 11 per cent in the first three months of the year, compared with a 6 per cent increase for the overall industry.

The company has steadily rebuilt its product line-up in recent years, bringing out new versions of mainstay vehicles such as the Explorer SUV and expanding production of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars such as the Focus.

Like most other carmakers, Ford continued to struggle overseas in the first quarter.

The company reported a loss of $US462 million in Europe, almost triple the $US149 million it lost in the first quarter of last year.

Ford has said it expects to lose up to $US2 billion this year in Europe, where new vehicle sales are at their lowest in decades. It is closing an assembly plant in Belgium and accelerating other cost cutting in the region.

Daimler, the German maker of Mercedes-Benz, said it was retreating from its profit forecast for this year because of conditions in Europe.

French car maker PSA Peugeot Citroen reported its first-quarter sales had dropped 10 per cent because of weak demand in Europe. It said it hoped to start talks with unions on wages and working hours in an effort to cut costs and improve competitiveness.

Ford's chief financial officer, Robert Shanks, said there were some "bright spots" in the Continent's economy.

"The overall economy may be starting to stabilise," he said.

Auto sales in the most troubled markets in Europe - Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland and Spain - appeared to have hit bottom.

While Europe continues to drag down Ford's results, the company is pressing ahead with plans to introduce several new vehicles in the region.

Ford is also coping with a setback in South America, where it reported a pre-tax loss of $US218 million, but it expected to break even in the region over the year.

Results in Asia, where Ford is investing heavily in new factories and products, improved slightly.

Analysts said Ford's overall performance showed that its turnaround was sustainable despite steep losses in Europe.

Unlike its domestic rivals General Motors and Chrysler, Ford was able to survive the recession without a government bailout and a bankruptcy filing.

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