SAO PAULO, Brazil - Shaking off the pain from another year of missed targets and dashed hopes in 2003, automakers here say they expect solid gains in production and sales this year with a boost from steadily declining interest rates.
The industry trade association Anfavea predicts that light-vehicle sales this year will rise 7.8 percent over last year's depressed levels to about 1.4 million. Light-vehicle sales last year fell 3.6 percent from 2002 to 1.3 million cars and trucks, the lowest level since 1999.
Despite being buoyed by record exports of more than 514,000 units, production rose just 1.3 percent to 1.7 million units. But Anfavea expects output to rise 9 percent this year to about 2.0 million units.
"I think the worst is over and that we are in a recovery," said Ricardo Carvalho, president of the association. "I hope this recovery lasts throughout the year."
Among the five biggest automakers, only Ford Motor Co. posted higher sales last year. Buoyed by demand for its new Ecosport small SUV, the automaker's sales jumped 14.2 percent over 2002.