Ford Motor Co. executives have said the company is in a better position to sell cars this year than in 2004 but declined to predict whether Ford's US sales and market share will grow in 2005.

Speaking with Dow Jones Newswires at the North American International Auto Show, Earl Hesterberg, executive vice president of North American sales and marketing, said things changed in December when Asian auto makers increased buyer incentives, even as the Big Three US auto makers eased off their financing and cash back deals.

Going into 2005, he reportedly said, the market is too dynamic to predict, but he said Ford doesn't expect to increase incentives this year from current levels, given the number of new car models it is selling that offer few special deals for customers.

He told Dow Jones Ford expects car sales, which in December rose for the first time in three years, to continue to grow. "We have a good chance with Mustang and Ford Five Hundred. That's what we're going to concentrate on - getting back into the car business."

Hesterberg reportedly said that, to the end of December, 40% of Ford's new Freestyle and Five Hundred vehicles were sold to non-Ford customers.

Greg Smith, president of Ford in the Americas, told the news agency the company is well-positioned with clean technology, selling diesel engines for the European market, and making hybrids for the US He doesn't see diesel car engines gaining much popularity in the U.S., where there are no government incentives to switch to diesel power, Dow Jones noted.

Smith reportedly said Ford is working with its suppliers to help them weather financial difficulties. He told Dow Jones Newswires he expects more auto parts makers to buy steel through Ford's commodity buying programme. "In some cases, we'll buy steel for them. We have more stability and better pricing."