Ford Motor Co President for the Americas Mark Fields said on Thursday he expects September U.S. light vehicle sales to top the 11.5 million annualized sales rate from August, which matches analysts' forecasts.width=400

J.D. Power and Associates also on Thursday estimated September U.S. auto sales of 11.8 million vehicles at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate, up from 11.5 million for August.

In September 2009, sales were only 9.2 million units on an annualized basis.

The J.D. Power forecast for retail sales to consumers in September is 9.7 million vehicles on an annualized basis. This would be the highest monthly retail sales rate in two years, other than August 2009 when the federal government's cash-for-clunkers incentives boosted sales briefly, it noted.

The total auto sales rate includes fleet vehicles, which are sold to government, business and rental agencies.

In a separate report, CNW Research said the company has turned itself around in the past few years and that more potential U.S. car buyers are considering Ford.

Through August of this year, fully 29 percent of those planning to buy a new vehicle within six months had a Ford nameplate among the top three contenders, CNW said in a research note issued on Thursday. That's up nearly 6 points from 2009 and 10 points from 2008, and represents the highest share of the decade, and besting Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) for the first time since 2003.

Toyota's consideration rate, meanwhile, has fallen to about 21 percent from 37 percent in 2007, CNW said, because of a stream of negative news about its safety recalls.


Fields also countered an analyst's forecast that the No. 2 U.S. automaker's earnings will suffer in 2011 because of increased pension expenditures.

We don't expect it to have a significant impact next year on our earnings, Fields said of the pension issue.

Ford has said that current year pension expenses are about $1.5 billion, and estimated about the same for 2011.

On Wednesday, Credit Suisse said in a report it expects Ford's pension expense to jump to $2.3 billion to $2.7 billion, depending on chosen pension 'relief' options.

Ford is in the process of winding down its Mercury brand, and will roll out options for dealers of its Lincoln luxury brand at its headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan in two weeks. Fields said about half of the 1,700 or so U.S. Mercury dealers have given the company resignation letters.

Most Lincoln dealers also have Ford models to sell, but about 200 now sell Lincolns and Mercurys and will be forced to find ways to sustain sales without Mercury models.

Fields would not reveal how Lincoln will change operations in the United States. He said, however, that the brand is rebounding from a lackluster performance period.

Ford will enhance the Lincoln brand in its home market before branching out globally, he said. He pointed out that Ford is concentrating on new products for the next four years or so before expanding Lincoln.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Richard Chang)