General Motors on Thursday forecast earnings of $US5 per share in 2003, excluding its Hughes Electronics unit, and laid out a goal to improve its market share in all regions, Reuters reported.

Estimates from 16 Wall Street analysts for GM's 2003 per-share earnings, including Hughes, range from $3 to $7.05, with an average of $5, according to earnings tracking firm Thomson First Call, Reuters said.

According to Reuters, GM said it expects its North American automotive operations to earn $1.7 billion to $1.9 billion this year, while GM Europe earnings are forecast to range between break-even and a loss of about $200 million.

Reuters also cited GM as saying that its US pension plan ended 2002 underfunded by $19.3 billion, adding that it would cut its target return rate on the pension plan to 9% from 10% previously.

Reuters said GM's forecast came a day before rival Ford is to reveal its outlook for the year.

US cars sales are generally expected to fall moderately from strong levels in 2002, Reuters noted.