Though sales were 15% lower than a year ago, Ford told analysts August was its second-best sales month this year, beaten only by May’s results, Dow Jones reported.

With the strengthening US economy, Ford now sees the US motor industry this year selling more than the 16.5 million vehicles it had forecast earlier, the report added.

Ford’s head of sales analysis, George Pipas, said that consumer spending has been robust, but the vehicle industry will continue to suffer from aggressive pricing, as it has for the past two years, Dow Jones said.

The report said Ford’s August results were hurt by poor passenger car sales, which dropped 28% compared with last year, and minivan sales, down 33% from a year ago while Pipas reportedly said fleet sales accounted for 15% of total August sales.

According to Dow Jones, Pipas said Ford is picking up market share in segments where it has introduced new products but said it will be a year before new passenger car models hit the showrooms though new minivans will be introduced later this year.

Pipas also said the new F-150 pickup truck should have a “visible impact” on Ford’s sales by October 1, Dow Jones added.

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According to the news agency, Pipas told analysts that currently, about 15% of inventory is 2004 models with another 10% in transit. Though General Motors and Chrysler have announced their incentive programmes for 2004 models, Ford reportedly said it’s too soon to say what it will offer.

According to Dow Jones, Pipas said that, although Ford’s economists see the US economy gaining strength this autumn, Ford’s sales rate in September and October will slow down from August’s brisk pace, following the same seasonal pattern of a year ago.

Dow Jones noted that Ford said on Wednesday that fourth-quarter production will be down 6% from last year, which should put inventories in good shape for the end of the year.

At the end of August, inventory levels were 742,000 vehicles, higher than the 703,000 vehicles reported at the end of August last year, but lower than the 777,000 at the end of July, Dow Jones added.