Auto parts manufacturer ArvinMeritor Inc. said today its fiscal first-quarter and 2003 earnings will fall short of analysts' estimates as vehicle production rates decline in North America. The Troy, Michigan-based company predicted earnings of 44 cents to 49 cents a share for the quarter ending in December, up from 32 cents a year earlier, as sales rise nearly 9 percent to $1.7 billion. Analysts' fiscal first-quarter estimates ranged from 55 cents to 63 cents, with an average of 59 cents, according to research firm Thomson First Call. For the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2003, ArvinMeritor said it expects fiscal 2003 earnings of $2.55 to $2.75 a share, up from about $2.25 to $2.30 this year. First Call estimates range from $2.40 to $3.40, with an average of $2.79, according to First Call. ArvinMeritor shares fell $1.14 cents, or 6.1 percent, to $17.56 in midmorning trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The company said it expects light vehicle production in North America to decline about 2 percent to 16.0 million in its fiscal 2003 from about 16.4 million this year. It also expects North American production of heavy-duty or Class 8 trucks to fall about 5 percent during its fiscal 2003 to 161,000. ArvinMeritor said it expects heavy-duty truck production in its fiscal first quarter to be higher than a year ago, although down from fourth-quarter levels. Heavy-duty truck orders have surged so far this year ahead of new, stricter federal emissions standards that go into effect today. For all of fiscal 2003, ArvinMeritor said it expects sales to rise about 5 percent to $7.2 billion. "Despite continued soft markets, we expect to grow our top line as a result of new business awards and greater market penetration," Larry Yost, ArvinMeritor chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. Yost also said the company will continue to focus on reducing costs and improving its margins.