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* A.T. Kearney sees US auto sales at 10 mln units in 2009
* Says too many full-line carmakers in US market
* Expects some carmakers to merge or exit US over time
* Auto parts supply base needs $24.1 bln in 2009-10
DETROIT, May 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. auto market has too many automakers for the long term and the deeply stressed supply base needs $24 billion over this year and next to cope with the industry downturn, consulting firm A.T. Kearney said in a report on issued Thursday.
U.S. auto industry sales are expected to drop 24 percent to 10 million units in 2009, the consulting firm said in its report reflecting on the deep pressure felt on the industry.
The downturn forced Chrysler into bankruptcy two weeks ago and General Motors Corp (GM.N) could follow its smaller rival into court within weeks, joining a handful of auto parts makers that have sought Chapter 11 protection from creditors.
"It will definitely be a very rough 2009 and 2010," Dan Cheng, vice president and North American automotive practice leader at A.T. Kearney, told Reuters. "How fast the economy comes back and sales come back will be the determining factor."
Cheng said the half dozen full-line automakers competing in the U.S. car market represented too much capacity, especially given the competitive pressure of potential new entrants to what has been the world's largest market for cars and trucks.
"You can see this is a non-sustainable situation," Cheng said.
Some of those mass market automakers will have to merge, adapt to niche products or exit the market, Cheng said. He declined to name the automakers he sees as most at risk.
"I don't think within the next five years that you are going to see massive consolidation," Cheng said. "Over the next 10 years you would expect to see some consolidation."
The top U.S. auto parts suppliers will lose an aggregate of $23.7 billion in 2009 and will not become profitable until 2011, the report forecasts. Meanwhile, funding to support the industry also remains in doubt, it said.
"With those kinds of losses, people are going to be pushed to the edge, and some are going to be pushed over," Cheng said. "Frankly, I'm surprised that more haven't filed yet."
The most likely forecast is for funding needs of $24 billion, but that could range from $17 billion to $33.5 billion under the more or less optimistic extremes, the report said.
"I don't think the government really wants to get into the business of loaning to the supply base," Cheng said. "The U.S. government is having a difficult enough time trying to figure out what to do with GM and Chrysler. Imagine if they had to start dealing with hundreds of suppliers."
Sales of 10 million units in the U.S. market this year would be better than automakers have been reporting through the first third of the year but still well below the 16 million to 17 million unit sales rates of earlier this decade.
Industrywide sales were 13.2 million in 2008.
A.T. Kearney expects the U.S. auto industry sales to rise to 12 million vehicles next year, 13.9 million in 2011, 16.1 million in 2012 and 16.8 million in 2013.
"We don't see the doomsday scenario where vehicle sales would stay at 10 million units or 12 million units for the foreseeable future," Cheng said. "Vehicle replacement needs will eventually compel people to buy vehicles." (Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Richard Chang)