CHICAGO — Ford Motor Co. on Thursday unveiled two 1989 models--a sporty Ford coupe and a Mercury convertible--and a restyled version of its popular Escort compact.
Meanwhile, Louis Lataif, Ford's vice president for North American sales, said the impact of the Oct. 19 stock market crash was short-lived and predicted that 1988 will be a good year for the U.S. auto industry and the U.S. economy.
"We are bullish about 1988, despite the ups and downs of the stock market and the weakened dollar," said Lataif, who becomes president of Ford of Europe on March 1.
Lataif predicted that Americans will buy close to 15 million cars and light trucks in 1988, nearly even with 1987, when auto makers sold 14.9 million passenger vehicles.
He noted that industrywide auto sales were strong from October through January and that economists have forecast low inflation, slowly declining interest rates, low unemployment and high levels of consumer confidence for 1988.
Ford, which was the only Big Three auto maker to sell more cars and more light trucks in 1987 than in 1986, will release its 1987 earnings next week.
Ford out-earned industry-leader General Motors in 1986 and through much of 1987, and was expected to do the same for the full year.
Ford will show its new, Mazda-built Probe coupe and Australian-built Mercury Capri at the nine-day Chicago Auto Show, which opens Saturday.
The Probe and the restyled Escort go on sale on May 12, but Ford division General Manager Robert Rewey said the company began shipping some Probe models to dealers last week.
Probe will be priced at $10,459, about $500 less than the imported Japanese models such as the Toyota Celica and Honda Prelude that it will compete against, Rewey said.
The car was designed by Ford, engineered by Mazda Motor Corp. and is being built at Mazda's new assembly plant in Flat Rock, Mich. As many as two-thirds of the cars built at the plant will be Ford models. The rest are Mazda models that share only a few components with the Probe.
Rewey said Ford expects to sell about 70,000 Probes during 1988 and about 100,000 in the car's first full year--additional sales to buyers who would not otherwise buy a Ford product because they prefer imported cars.
Like the Ford Taurus, several thousand Probes will be exported to Japan, Rewey said. Ford shipped about 1,000 cars to Japan in 1987 and expects to ship 3,000 to 4,000 in 1988.
The Mercury Capri luxury convertible will begin production late in 1988. No launch date or price has been set for car, which will cost less than $20,000, said Thomas Wagner, Lincoln-Mercury general manager.
The Capri is an Italian-designed joint project between Mazda and Ford, which owns 25% of Mazda. The car is aimed at buyers who are younger than Lincoln-Mercury's traditional customers.
The new Escort will be sold as a 1988 model and has been restyled front and rear, including a new front grille and rear spoiler. Escort is the nation's best-selling car, a ranking it has held through most of the decade.
The restyled Escort will start at $6,747 for the Pony two-door; $7,127 for the more-equipped LX two-door; $9,093 for the GT model, and $8,201 for the EXP two-door.