DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. expects U.S. annual light-vehicle sales to reach close to 13 million in 2011, as the economy rebounds.
CEO Alan Mulally said October sales are shaping up to be stronger than September sales. Sales of light vehicles for October will come in at a 12-million rate, he says.
The third-quarter gross domestic product rose 2 percent. Ford expects GDP to expand by 3 percent next year, Mulally said in an interview Friday.
"We're thinking that we could move up past 12 million maybe closer to 13 million for 2011," Mulally said. "So it's gradual expansion, but very solid."
Mulally added that through the first nine months, the industry's light-vehicle sales hovered around 11.5 million. That's up from the year-earlier period when it was in the 10.5 million range.
In other news, Mulally said Lincoln dealers should trust that the automaker will develop top-flight luxury vehicles for them to sell.
Ford recently told Lincoln dealers they have until Dec. 31 to decide whether they will make expensive renovations to their stores or give up their franchise. Ford wants to whittle down the 1,200 U.S. Lincoln dealerships it has by about 200, especially in metro markets, to be more competitive with brands such as Lexus.
Many dealers hesitate to invest until they know more about Ford's product plans for Lincoln.
"I've been in the vehicles already because we have some of the prototypes, and they are just gorgeous," Mulally said. "They're just fantastic."
He says Ford's improvement of the Ford division is proof to Lincoln dealers that Ford can do the same for Lincoln.
Also, with the sale of Ford's former luxury brands -- Land Rover, Jaguar and Volvo -- Ford can now spend more to fix Lincoln.
The MKS and MKZ sedans and MKX crossover will get the brand through the transition period until Ford introduces the next generation of vehicles, Mulally said.
A smaller dealership roster and improved customer service must go hand in hand with the new products, he said.
"We can't force any dealer to do anything, but we can sure show them where we're going," Mulally said.
"Their stores need to be in the right location, their commitment to the consumer experience needs to be right if they're to be successful, and they're going to choose to believe or not that we're going to make the cars that they'll need."