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3 Factors That Drove Ford's 7% November Sales Surge

Ford reported another strong sales month, although it trailed its Detroit rivals. Photo credit: Ford

Ford (NYSE: F  ) continues to surge and is nearing the end of a great 2013 with its best November retail sales performance since 2004. Ford's overall U.S. sales increased 7%, and retail sales jumped 9% higher compared to last year. Although Ford posted a strong month, it trailed General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) and Chrysler, which posted sales gains of 14% and 16%, respectively. But through 11 months of 2013, Ford leads all Detroit automakers with a 12% sales increase, compared to 9% each from General Motors and Chrysler.

Here are three major highlights in Ford's domestic performance in November.

F-Series: 65,501 units sold, a 16.3% increase
Any month that Ford sells more than 50,000 full-size trucks is considered great. America's best-selling truck has had one heck of a streak with November marking the seventh-consecutive month in which sales topped 60,000.

Graph by author. Information from Ford monthly sales releases.

This is great news for Ford investors because the F-Series is the company's most profitable vehicle and it continues to hold ground against General Motors' redesigned Silverado, which posted a 12% sales increase in November. Both automakers are dishing incentives that top $3,000, but it's nothing to worry about yet as the average transaction prices of trucks continue to increase, helping retain strong margins at a faster rate than the rest of the industry.

Escape: 20,988 units sold, a 0.1% increase
Analysts were initially disappointed in the Escape's sales performance in November, but there's more to the story. While the 0.1% left more to be desired, the reason is because of a lack of fleet sales -- retail sales of the Escape were up 9% in November. Retail sales are typically healthier than fleet sales, and the lack of a sales increase due to fewer fleet sales is nothing for investors to worry about.

One thing for investors to watch is whether retail sales of the Escape have slowed after Ford announced a recent recall due to potential fires. This is the seventh time the 2013 Escape has been recalled, but it's a voluntary recall of more than 160,000 vehicles, and it pales in comparison to some of the year's biggest recalls by Chrysler and Toyota. It is doubtful that the recalls will dampen the Escape's sales performance heading into 2014, especially as the segment remains one of the industry's best selling.

Lincoln: 6,727 units sold, a 17.4% increase
Lincoln's sales of 6,727 fell short of crosstown rival General Motors' sales of its Cadillac brand, which posted an 11.4% increase to 16,172 units sold in November. Looking at sales figures today it's hard to believe that roughly 15 years ago Lincoln was the top-selling U.S. luxury brand. Ford's luxury Lincoln brand has struggled over the past few years and remains in the very early stages of a turnaround story.

The first of the five new planned Lincoln models was released earlier this year, the luxury MKZ sedan. Sales surged once enough inventory hit the showrooms and the MKZ has helped boost year-over-year comparisons for the entire brand.

Graph by author. Information from Ford's monthly sales releases.

While Lincoln still largely trails Cadillac in volume, Ford hopes its 2015 MKC, which hits showrooms next year, will be another big success -- and it likely will be for multiple reasons. Ford has many potential catalysts for its stock to continue its surge higher, but bringing its Lincoln lineup back to relevance is one of the company's most important projects for the future.

Overall, investors should feel good about automotive investments as we head into 2014. Automakers are doing much better jobs of matching supply and demand, improving operations to increase margins, and consolidating vehicles platforms. In addition to those bottom-line improvements, the economy is gradually improving, energy costs are dropping, and credit is still very available and affordable -- all factors that should help keep U.S. sales robust.

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