Ford (NYSE: F ) saw its U.S. sales rise 6% in September, good enough to give the Blue Oval its best September performance since 2006.
Ford's gain handily outperformed the overall market and came in well ahead of analyst estimates, as economic uncertainties and a quirk of the calendar led to a small decline in overall U.S. light-vehicle sales, the first in more than two years.
But strong results for two of Ford's top-selling products led the way to a sizable U.S. market-share gain, while rivals General Motors (NYSE: GM ) , Toyota (NYSE: TM ) , and Nissan (NASDAQOTH: NSANY ) all lost more ground than analysts had expected.
Ford's big mainstays continued to outperform the market
Those two big sellers are the hot Fusion sedan and the F-Series pickup line; both posted market-beating sales increases in September.
Sales of the Fusion were up a whopping 62% over last September's totals -- but that impressive-looking gain should come with an asterisk. The current Fusion was just beginning to arrive at dealers last September, and as is typical with a new product rollout, supplies -- and thus sales -- were initially limited.
But it's also true that Ford opened a second assembly line for the Fusion at the end of last month in an effort to meet surging demand for the handsome sedan. Supplies of Fusions were running short in some parts of the country for several months. Could the new plant have contributed to Ford's big sales gain?
It will, but it probably hasn't yet: Ford sold 19,972 Fusions in the U.S. in September, versus 24,653 in August. That suggests that the cars rolling off of the new assembly line in Flat Rock, Mich., are still making their way to dealers' lots.
Ford's pickups hold their own against rising competition
General Motors has been ramping up supplies of its all-new Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, while Ford's mainstay F-150 is set to be replaced next year. The new GM trucks are strong entries, and one would expect Ford to lose some ground -- but that's not how it played out in the market in September.
Sales of the F-Series line (the F-150 and its Super Duty siblings) were up 9.8% in September, while total sales of the Silverado and Sierra were actually down. With sales exceeding 60,000 for the fifth month in a row, Ford's best-selling -- and most profitable -- product line looks to be holding its own against tough competition.
Ford might have been helped in September by tight inventories of the new GM pickups. A Bloomberg report on Monday suggested that one of GM's suppliers has had trouble keeping up with demand for certain engine parts; the result has been a limited supply of pickups equipped with GM's new 5.3-liter V8, the most popular engine choice in the new Chevy and GMC pickups.
Small cars continue to shine in the west, but a mixed bag overall
Results for the rest of Ford's models were a mixed bag in September. Sales of Ford's SUVs as a group were down 3.2%, as Escape sales dropped and the Explorer managed just a 1.5% gain.
Sales of Ford's compact Focus were also down by more than 15%. But the news isn't all bad: Buyers may have simply made other choices, as Fiesta sales were up more than 28% and the C-Max Hybrid more than doubled its year-ago sales totals.
The Fiesta was refreshed earlier this year, and sales have been strong since -- particularly in the West Coast, Ford officials noted on Tuesday.
West Coast markets like the Los Angeles and San Francisco regions are import strongholds, dominated by Toyota and Honda (NYSE: HMC ) . Ford's cars have not historically done well on the West Coast, but the company's recent emphasis on quality and fuel-efficiency is helping to change that.
Strong sales bode well for third-quarter profits
Ford shareholders are looking forward to the company's third-quarter report later this month. While Ford's Europe and Asia operations continue to be works in progress, Ford's sales in the U.S. market have been very strong over the last three months.
In particular, continued high demand for Ford's Fusion and ongoing strong sales of the F-Series pickups both bode well for profits in North America. The company may have work left to do elsewhere, but Ford shareholders should be encouraged by the continued strength of Ford's most profitable products during a down month in its home market.
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