September 23, 2011 / 6:25 PM / in 6 years

UPDATE 1-Ford sees better sales, wary about economy

* Industrywide Sept sales running ahead of Jan-Aug pace

* More economic uncertainty now than at start of year

DEARBORN, Mich, Sept 23 (Reuters) - U.S. auto industry sales in September are running slightly ahead of the pace seen through the first eight months of the year, but Ford Motor Co (F.N) remains wary of the weak economy, the automaker’s U.S. sales analyst said on Friday.

George Pipas said he sees U.S. sales this month slightly better than the 12.73 million annual sales rate seen through August, and Ford expects that pace to at least be matched in the fourth quarter. The estimate includes medium and heavy trucks.

The industry is on pace for its strongest month since April, Pipas said.

But with bad employment news and a weak housing market, Ford is at least looking at the “scenario” of a double-dip recession, he said.

“It’s a scenario, but it’s not our plan,” Pipas told reporters at Ford’s headquarters.

“You can’t ignore the economic data coming in, so you have to attach some level of probability to it, but ... our plan is that economic growth is going to be slow over the next several quarters,” he said, adding there was more uncertainty now than at the start of the year.

While Pipas acknowledged the next several years will be challenging for the economy, he said U.S. monthly auto sales have remained in the 12 million range on an annual basis instead of sliding.

“I don’t know that auto sales are going to fall that much more,” he said.

Pipas also said Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) and Honda Motor Co (7267.T) by the end of the month will have recovered from the tight supply of cars they suffered from after parts shortages caused by the March earthquake in Japan.

“It will be pretty much a no-excuses industry as we get into the fourth quarter, and October sort of marks the beginning of that,” he said.

Pipas said those improved inventories have not resulted in higher incentives in the industry, however, as deals in September were largely matching those in August.

“I don’t see any evidence about the much talked about incentive escalation as inventories have improved,” he said.

Pipas also said sales of full-sized pickup trucks have rebounded as gas prices have fallen, despite little help from the housing market.

He said sales of the big pickups made up 13 percent of retail sales in September, compared with 9 to 10 percent in April and May. The September rate is the highest since December.

The industry will report September auto sales on Oct. 3. (Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; editing by John Wallace)

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