Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Alan Mulally said on Monday that the No. 2 U.S. automaker was keeping its target to return to the black by 2009, although the world economy might be hurt by the U.S. mortgage crisis.

Ford can still achieve the target by restructuring its U.S. operations and overhauling its production lines to cater to customer demand in North America, Mulally told a media briefing in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing.

Mulally said in August that Ford was on track to return to profitability in 2009 despite a forecast for weaker industry-wide U.S. sales this year.

On Monday, he said the world economy would likely be slowed by the U.S. mortgage crisis.

The world economy will continue to grow, but at a slower pace, he said.

Mulally said Ford would continue to develop its market in China, but could not rule out the possibility of exporting small cars from China. He did not elaborate.

Ford said its new $510 million auto manufacturing plant in east China had started operations, boosting its car production capacity in the country to more than 410,000 units.

The plant is owned by Changan Ford Mazda Automobile, a tie-up linking Ford with Chongqing Changan Automobile Co and Mazda Motor Corp.