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Ford to increase production after sales rise 27%

SAN FRANCISCO -- Ford Motor Co. will increase factory production 13 percent in the first quarter because of higher demand for Ford and Lincoln brand cars and trucks, and further increases are likely through the year, company executives said Sunday.

The Dearborn, Mich., auto-maker said its sales to individual buyers rose 27 percent in January, a strong increase that shows more demand for Ford products such as the Explorer SUV. Ford's overall sales, including those to big fleet buyers such as rental car companies, rose 9 percent last month.

"We're trying to catch up to just the customer demand," Jim Farley, Ford's global marketing chief, told reporters at the National Automobile Dealers Association conference in San Francisco.

The first-quarter increase, to 555,000 vehicles, could mean additional jobs. U.S. sales chief Ken Czubay said Ford is studying whether to add a third shift to factories that now are on two shifts and working overtime. The company also could add production by raising the assembly line speed or by paying more overtime to extend work time.

Czubay said demand for vehicles such as the revamped Explorer has been so high that the company has only a "single-digit" days' supply of the model on dealer lots. Automakers like to have about 60 days worth of a product so customers have adequate selection.

Ford's Chicago plant likely will get additional jobs or overtime because it builds the new Explorer. It's based on a car chassis and gets better mileage than the old Explorer, and arrived at dealers late last year.

Ford already has announced plans to hire more than 7,000 workers in the next two years, including engineers and factory workers. But those jobs will be to build new models.

The executives also promised six new or updated models for the Lincoln brand in the next three years as they try to revive its sales. Dealers who attended a meeting Sunday with Farley and Czubay said no specifics were given on the models. Ford has phased out its Mercury brand, leaving some dealers with only Lincoln. Lincoln sales rose 3.6 percent last year but lagged behind the overall U.S. auto market.

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