Ford of Canada, which has seen its market share fall steadily in recent years, is counting on a renewed focus on passenger cars to stop the decline, company executives told the Reuters news agency.

The automaker's new president, Joe Hinrichs, reportedly said the company's focus for the rest of this year is to build on a solid sales gain in January with a range of new vehicles it hopes will resonate with customers after what he termed a "challenging" 2004.

Citing figures compiled by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, Reuters said that, in Canada last year, Ford endured the biggest decline in market share among major automakers, losing 1.3% to 13.9% - down from about 18% just five years ago.

Its overall vehicle sales tumbled by 11.7% last year from 2003, even though Ford's F-Series pickup is the best-selling truck in Canada, the report added, noting that total auto sales in Canada retreated 3.7% last year.

"We really want to have our products speak for themselves and get our fair share of the market, sustain our fair share of the market," Hinrichs told Reuters in an interview at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto, which runs from February 18 to 27. "If you look at our truck leadership and our SUV leadership, now with our new cars and our good sales that we had in January, we think we have the product to stop that market share erosion."

Reuters said the automaker, which launched seven cars in Canada last year, is introducing four more this year, including the Ford Fusion, a mid-sized sedan aimed at taking on a market segment dominated in Canada by Japanese and South Korean automakers.

The other three, according to the report, are the 2005 Ford Mustang, which was named Canadian Car of the Year earlier this week, the luxury Lincoln Mark LT pickup truck and the Lincoln Zephyr, a high-end mid-sized sedan targeted at younger buyers.

Ford reportedly credited the popularity of the 2005 Mustang for its 2% rise in sales in January.

According to Reuters, Ford employs about 14,000 people in Canada and had revenues of $C18.1 billion ($US14.6 billion) last year - it announced recently its Oakville, Ontario, assembly plant would be transformed into a flexible manufacturing facility capable of making several different models.

But Hinrichs, who assumed the top job at Ford Canada on Jan 1., declined to elaborate in his interview with the news agency on the outlook for the St. Thomas, Ontario, plant, which produces the ageing, rear-drive, body-on-frame Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis sedans.

Reuters noted that the Canadian Auto Workers union has said it will press for a new product commitment at St. Thomas in contract talks with the automaker later this year.

"We're not talking about St. Thomas at this point in time," Hinrichs reportedly said. "We're committed to the Crown Vic and the Grand Marquis being produced there for the future. Right now we're not talking about anything further."