Ford Motor Co. nearly tripled its earnings in the second quarter compared with the same period last year, thanks to its booming credit business and good profits in Europe, the company said yesterday.

But Ford's North American car and truck business was anemic, and its Premier Auto Group -- a collection of tony brands including Jaguar, Aston Martin, Volvo and Land Rover -- posted a loss.

The nation's second-biggest automaker after General Motors Corp. reported net income of $1.17 billion (57 cents per share) on sales of $42.8 billion for the second quarter of the year. That was up from net income of $417 million (22 cents) on sales of $40.6 billion during the same portion of 2003.

The results beat the company's own forecasts. "I am pleased that we continue to make solid progress in this extremely competitive environment," chairman and chief executive William Clay Ford Jr. said in a news release. Ford said the rest of the year "includes many challenges," but said the company is counting on good performance from a number of upcoming vehicle launches, such as the Ford Five Hundred sedan, the Freestyle sport wagon and the Escape Hybrid small SUV. The company increased its outlook for the rest of the year by 15 cents a share, to a range of $1.80 to $1.90 a share -- the second such increase this year. Ford's share price fell 38 cents, to $14.60, yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ford's credit business accounted for most of the company's profits during the second quarter, with reported net income of $897 million, up from $401 million a year ago. The company said the jump was because of lower losses from loans, better prices on used vehicles and the business generated by low interest rates.

With interest rates starting to rise, Ford may be hard-pressed to keep up such scorching credit performance, Morgan Stanley analyst Stephen Girsky said in a bulletin to investors.

Girsky gave the quarter a mixed review, noting that "automotive results were significantly worse than expected while financial services were significantly better."

Ford reported a loss of $57 million for its worldwide automotive business, though the loss was caused primarily by a one-time $120 million charge from the restructuring of Ford's investment in the Ballard Power Systems Inc. fuel cell manufacturing business. Without that and other one-time losses, the auto sector would have reported a profit of $83 million, up from net income of $3 million a year ago.

In North America, Ford reported a pretax profit of $455 million, up just $10 million from last year's quarter and lower than many analysts expected. Sales of $20.5 billion were down from $20.7 billion a year ago, and total vehicles sold in North America slipped to 919,000 from 982,000.

The European auto business posted a big turnaround after a recent restructuring, with pretax profits of $211 million compared with a loss of $525 million for last year's quarter. But Ford's Premier Auto Group logged a pretax loss of $362 million for the quarter, down from a pretax profit of $166 million a year ago.

Ford chief financial officer Don R. Leclair told analysts in a conference call that while sales at Volvo have done well, Land Rover and particularly Jaguar have lagged. He said the company will "reevaluate in particular the Jaguar business structure in light of the less than anticipated sales," though he added that Jaguar would not undergo a major restructuring.

Ford's credit division accounted for $897 million of the company's $1.17 billion second-quarter profit.