The chairman of the Ford Motor Co. said that when the U.S. auto industry finishes its extensive downsizing programs aimed at improving mileage, sales of imported cars are going to go "down, down, down."

Henry Ford II said that "won't be tomorrow but will be fairly soon.

"I think when the downsizing gets going, we're going to push them just as good cars as the Japanese or Germans," the outspoken executive said emphatically.

"We have an outstanding distribution system and we know to sell he added.

Asked later whether the German-made Ford Capri will be one of those imports pushed into the water, Ford said. "Definitely. It's practically swimming on its way back now."

Ford touched on a wide variety of other issues at a press conference ending the introduction of the company's new 1978 models:

He estimated new-car sales will continue at a high level through the model year, saying 1978 "will be at least as good as this year's near-record 14.5 million vehicles."

He forecast sales of 11.1 million 1978 cars and 3.5 million trucks. That optimistic figure still is substantially under last week's General Motors Corp. prediction of 11.75 million cars and 3.75 million trucks.

In one week, the company will make an announcement about passive auto safety devices such as the air bag.

Ford hinted the company may reverse its earlier decision to abandon a test program of the devices.

The auto maker id negotiating with several European governments on the location of a new engine factory. Despite a personal request from the Mayor of Berlin, that city will not be the location, Ford said.

Over the past five years, the auto maker has earned an after-tax profit of two cents on every U.S. sales dollar.

He doesn't see any need for stimulating the economy now, and expects economic growth to slacken somewhat through the coming year.

The Ford chairman, an early supporter of Jimmy Carter, was asked to evaluate the President's performance so far, particularly because a number of government decisions had gone against the auto industry.

"It's too early to tell," Ford said. "He's only been in office since January. But what he's done has been pretty good," he said.

The auto executive said the company "has egg on its face" for moving slow on the recall of more than a million cars for defective radiator fans.

"With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, we should have recognized it before we did," he said. He termed it "regrettable that we did not get into this (recall) more quickly."

In contrast to that response, Ford dismissed as "biased" charges from an "opinionated" person the allegations by Mother Jones, a West Coast magazine, that Pintos burn too readily in accidents. The company doesn't think the Pinto is any less safe than other vehicles, he said.