Ford’s Hinrichs Sees Auto Sales at 14-Year High in 2015

Joseph Hinrichs, Ford Motor Co.’s president of the Americas, said today the company is predicting industrywide U.S. auto sales will top 17 million next year, the most since 2001. The automaker wouldn’t confirm his comments.

“We are forecasting next year it can be over 17 million and we’re preparing for that,” Hinrichs said in an interview on CNBC, according to a transcript. “Some think it could be close to 18 million,” which would be a record.

Following the interview, CNBC correspondent Phil LeBeau tweeted this quote he attributed to Hinrichs: “We’re forecasting annual sales for the industry next year of 16.8 -17.5 million vehicles.”

The second largest U.S. automaker is hiring 1,200 workers at its van and truck factory near Kansas City, it said today. That brings its U.S. hiring total to more than 14,000 since 2011, exceeding a promise it made to the United Auto Workers. U.S. auto sales hit an annual pace of 17.5 million vehicles last month, the highest since January 2006. Motor vehicle production climbed to about a $20 billion annualized rate in the second quarter, the most in nine quarters, according to the Commerce Department.

After reviewing the transcript of Hinrichs comments, Ford declined to confirm his forecast. The executive and his boss, Ford Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields, are meeting with investors in Dearborn, Michigan, Sept. 29 to review the company’s performance.

“We will confirm our views on the industry and Ford’s outlook on Monday during our Investor Day presentation,” Karl Henkel, a Ford spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.

Adding Shifts

The last time U.S. auto sales exceeded 17 million was in 2001, when consumers purchased 17.2 million cars and light trucks. That came a year after U.S. auto sales peaked at a record 17.4 million.

After a sluggish start, industrywide deliveries of cars and trucks have exceeded expectations in recent months as consumers take advantage of low interest rates. That has seen automakers add shifts at plants to meet the growing demand. U.S. assembly of cars and light trucks surged 13.2 percent in July to a 12.85 million annual pace, the highest production since May 2000, data from the Federal Reserve show.

“We’ll have to see how interest rates grow and how the economy and housing market goes,” Hinrichs said. “But we believe the potential can go above 17 million.”

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