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Ford earnings surge past estimates as trucks shine

Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally

Ford Motor, reported better-than-expected second quarter earnings and raised its profit and sales forecasts for the year as strong U.S. pickup truck demand and growing sales in China offset persistent—but narrowing—losses in Europe.

Its shares rose almost 3 percent in pre-market trading. (Click here to track the company's shares in pre-market trade.)

Ford earned $1.2 billion in the April-June period, propelled by a $2.3 billion profit in North America. U.S. pickup truck sales have jumped 22 percent in the first six months of this year, or nearly three times the pace of total industry sales. That benefits Ford, whose best-selling vehicle in the U.S. is the F-Series pickup.

Ford also reported a best-ever profit of $177 million in Asia. Ford's sales jumped 47 percent in China the first six months of this year, or more than four times faster than total industry sales growth of 17 percent, as the company introduced popular new vehicles like the EcoSport and Kuga SUVs.

(Read more: Auto job boom rolls on as Ford expands, again)

Ford raised its forecast based on the April-June results. The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker now expects its full-year pretax profit to be equal to or better than the $8 billion it reported a year ago. Previously the company had expected to match that profit.

Ford also expects sales in the U.S., Europe and China to be in the upper end of its previous forecasts.

In Europe, Ford narrowed its expected full-year loss to $1.8 billion from $2 billion. The company lost $348 million in Europe in the second quarter, which was $56 million better than a year ago.

Ford's earnings amounted to 30 cents per share in the latest quarter, the same as a year ago. Without one-time items, including separation payments in Europe, where Ford is closing several plants, the company earned 45 cents per share. That surpassed analysts' forecast of 37 cents, according to FactSet.

(Read more: General Motors edges out Volkswagen in China)

Revenue was up 14 percent to $38.1 billion, beating analysts' forecasts of $34.9 billion.

Ford to build current and new F-150 pickups at same time

Ford Motor Co will produce both its current F-150 pickup and a new model for about six months to avoid disrupting sales of the top-selling U.S. vehicle and safeguard against potential kinks tied to the truck's extensive overhaul, people familiar with the plans said.

The second-largest U.S. automaker aims to start production of the new truck around July 2014, sources said. Ford will continue to build the older model for the first six months of the new F-150's launch.

The automaker took more time to prepare its factories to build newer truck models in 2003 and 2008, according to Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson. Ford was able to revamp its plants at a more "leisurely" pace in 2008, when high fuel prices sapped demand for larger, gas-guzzling models.

But planning for the upcoming F-150 comes as U.S. demand for trucks is quickly growing, stoked by strength in the housing and oil industries. Ford cannot afford any disruption to production at a time when U.S. sales of full-size pickups are increasing at almost three times the pace of the overall industry.

(Read more: Trucks power strongest june auto sales since 2007)

"In order to ramp up, you have to retool...and that means you have to take capacity offline," IHS Automotive analyst Mike Jackson said. "To do that, at a period of time when demand is so strong, makes it a bit challenging."

Ford, which reports second-quarter earnings on Wednesday, declined to comment. The F-series trucks and SUV derivatives such as the Expedition account for more than 90 percent of Ford's global profit, according to Morgan Stanley.

Ford builds the F-150 in Kansas City, Missouri and Dearborn, Michigan. The Dearborn truck factory was partially shut down during the last week of June to allow for some "facility work" for the new F-150, according to a May plant newsletter.

At the Detroit auto show this year, Ford showed a truck concept dubbed the Atlas that hinted at a bolder, lighter design. Sources have previously said Ford is looking to cut at least 700 pounds from its F-150 truck.

Ford's overhaul of the F-150 includes relying on more aluminum and lightweight materials to meet future fuel economy standards. Ford already uses aluminum in the hood of its current F-150, but the new truck will use it more extensively.

Aluminum is about one-third the weight of conventional steel, but different factory equipment is required to manipulate the material.

"You wouldn't want to do both plants simultaneously because if there is a glitch, you don't want that cutting off supply of all trucks," Johnson said.

It is unusual, but not unprecedented, for automakers to build older models alongside the new ones, especially when it comes to top-sellers.

Ford is allocating more time than General Motors to change over to the new model, Johnson said. GM built the old and new versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups for about two months this year, a GM spokeswoman said.

By The Associated Press and Reuters.

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