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Trade-ins! Pent-up demand is 'neatest thing': Ford CEO

More and more Americans are ready to get rid of their old clunkers for a new car and that's presenting a good problem for the nation's automakers: How to keep up.

"The neatest thing is the pent-up demand," Ford CEO Alan Mulally told CNBC on Thursday, due to drivers holding on to their cars and trucks longer.

The average age of vehicles on the road is 11 years old, he continued, which in many cases makes it "economically obsolete" to keep pouring money into repairs.

Predicting the overall U.S. auto industry could sell up to 17 million units this year, Mulally acknowledged in a "Squawk Box" interview that Ford does not have a lot of capacity left. But he added, "We have room on the second and third shifts around the United States to meet that demand."

With red-hot sales of its new Fusion midsize car, Ford has added 1,400 workers and a second shift at its assembly plant in Flat Rock, Mich., just outside of Detroit to try to keep pace with demand.

(Read More: Ford adds 1,400 workers to meet Fusion demand)

Meanwhile, Ford is hoping the popularity of the redesigned Fusion can put the automaker's brand over the top in the nation's largest auto market. Ford trails Honda by just 0.1 percent in efficiency-conscious California.

"That Fusion family of Petrol, the EcoBoost engines—but also the Hybrid and the Plug-in Hybrid … [is] probably the finest lineup for that nameplate we have ever had or anybody else has," Mulally beamed. "It's very gratifying to see the East Coast and West Coast really adopting the Ford brand."

So far this year, Ford's stock has increased more than 25 percent, as the automaker experiences its strongest U.S. sales pace since 2006.

But Mulally said he's very aware of Wall Street's insatiable expectations. "What they're really looking for is consistency of earnings over time. So for four years in a row now, we have delivered over $8 billion of operating profit."

He also said he realizes that delivering on the bottom line is only part of the challenge. "They're looking at not only ... your revenue growth [but] your margin expansion. On both of those, we are growing the top line and the efficiency."

"If we keep doing that the stock price will reflect that," he concluded.

—By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter at @Matt_SquawkCNBC. CNBC's Phil LeBeau contributed to this article. Follow LeBeau at @LeBeauCarNews.

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