What 2011’s Sales Say About Ford

Ford is America’s best selling brand once again.

U.S. sales data for Ford are in and the news is quite good: the Ford brand topped 2 million units sold for 2011, the first time that has happened since 2007.

This news is important for Ford for two reasons: the brand is rebounding faster than the market is recovering. And, closing Mercury at the end of 2010 hasn’t hurt the automaker. In fact, even if Mercury owners have not made the switch to Ford, the brand has made up that loss with conquest sales from other brands.

No brand is invincible and Ford definitely may find itself stumbling at some point. Still, with many new vehicle lines in place and more to follow, Ford’s outlook for 2012 and beyond is very good. Even with outside pressures such as global economic problems, Ford is in much better position today to weather a financial storm than the automaker was in 2008 when bankruptcy seemed near.

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the Ford brand in 2011 and what we can expect going forward:

Pickup trucks — The Ford Ranger is no more, a compact pickup truck that was discontinued at the end of 2011. Sales finished strong, suggesting that demand for smaller trucks remains. Ford will watch this segment closely especially as Chevrolet promised to replace its current Colorado truck with a new model. Regardless, F-150 sales remain robust and easily topped 500,000 units again in 2011, taking the #1 position for 34 consecutive years. A new big truck will likely be released by the 2014 model year.

Out with the old… — …and in with the new…Escape, that is. In its final year of sales, the Ford Escape shined brightly and along with the F-Series and Ford Fusion was a top ten selling model in calendar year 2011. The 2012 model will soon be replaced by an all-new 2013 edition this spring. The new model drops the V-6 and the hybrid, and will rely exclusively on a family of three four cylinder engines to power this compact crossover including two EcoBoost engines. This writer has seen and sat in the new Escape, although it wasn’t available to drive.

In with the new… — …C-Max, that is. Perhaps Ford’s riskiest move in 2012 will be the introduction of its dedicated C-Max electric vehicle line. Like Toyota with the Prius, the C-Max will feature hybrid vehicles exclusively. We’ll see two models later this year — a standard hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. The C-Max rides on the same platform that underpins the Ford Focus and will replace the Escape Hybrid. Sales, however, may be quite small as demand for hybrids other than the Prius is minimal. Ford will need to manage expectations with this vehicle.

Understanding crossovers — One area where Ford might run into problems is with its crossovers. When you include the body on frame Expedition in the mix and the upcoming C-Max, Ford will have six crossver/SUV models in its line up. Is there some overlap? Yes, and plenty of it. Critics have said that the boxy Flex would be discontinued, but Ford has proven otherwise, taking the wraps off of the 2013 Ford Flex this past November. Ford is using each of its models to meet customer demand, providing market penetration that demonstrates the brand’s leadership in the all-important “utilities” market.

Competitive small cars — The Fiesta and Focus have given Ford two very strong entries in the small car market. These cars are attractively designed, well-equipped and offer good value for shoppers. Ford will again be watching Chevrolet as its main American competitor brings the diminutive Chevrolet Spark to the market this spring. That car, an A-segment model, will compete against the Smart ForTwo, the Scion IQ and the Fiat 500. Microcars haven’t sold particularly well in the U.S. to date, but Chevrolet thinks that there is a market for its Korean-built Spark. If Chevrolet succeeds, then the Ford Ka may not be too far behind.

Niche models — There was a time when a brand’s full-size model and its sport coupe were top sellers. No more. Today, both the big Ford Taurus and the sporty Ford Mustang are niche models, vehicles that sell only a fraction of what they used to sell. Still, both models are very important to Ford for two reasons: they serve as halo products and are also very profitable. The Taurus will be refreshed for 2013 while the Mustang earns some new engine choices. What we’re waiting to see is the 2015 Ford Mustang, the 50th anniversary model that will be all-new and released likely in April 2014.

One area where Ford needs to exercise restraint is to avoid being all things to all people. Chevrolet ran into this problem, building cars it didn’t need to have including the HHR, its answer to the Chrysler PT Cruiser and the SSR, a retro truck. Concentrating on what you do best leads to higher profits and fewer problems, with time and money sucking distractions avoided.

Photo Credit: Sannita