Once upon a time, executives at Detroit's big three automakers laughed at the idea that Toyota and Honda could be successful in America by manufacturing smaller and fuel-efficient vehicles. That arrogance faded slowly, after decades of consistently losing market share to the Japanese automakers.
It was clear Detroit automakers had lost their way; producing road-clogging and gasoline-chugging SUV's might not be the ticket to success, after all. In 2006 that changed for one Detroit automaker: Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F). It was a defining moment in the Blue Oval's history as it secured more than $23 billion in loans to fund its business turnaround and flip its historic strategy right-side up.
Fast-forward to today, and Ford's resurgence has been nothing short of impressive. Ford's massive loan granted in 2006 and immediate focus on producing cars people actually wanted to buy enabled the company to avoid bankruptcy, unlike its Detroit counterparts, during the Great Recession.
Here are three vehicles critical to Ford's recent, and future, success.
Sure, Japanese automakers have long since dominated one of America's largest and most important vehicle segments, midsize sedans, but their vehicles often lacked style. What the Camry, Accord, and Altima lacked in style, though, they made up for in quality, value, and fuel-economy. When Ford unleashed its brand new Fusion sedan, it was an aggressive design not found anywhere else in the segment and it won consumers over quickly.
Toyota's Camry has long reigned the best-selling sedan in the U.S. and topping the vehicle in sales won't be easy. Consider that the Camry has survived supply-chain disruptions from natural disasters, unintended acceleration recalls that gave Toyota a massive black-eye, as well as the recession that sent industry sales spiraling downward.
That said, the Fusion's appealing design and improved fuel-economy with popular EcoBoost turbocharged engine options have sent sales soaring. In fact, the Fusion ranks as the sixth best-selling car in the U.S. through June, and is within striking distance of jumping three competing vehicles.
The next vehicle on this list is enjoying a surge in sales due to the crossover vehicle segment exploding in popularity in recent years.
The Escape's third-generation model has become a hit with consumers and has become a successful one-two sales punch with Ford's Fusion. In fact, sales of the Fusion and Escape each have a chance to do something this year that hasn't been done by any other Ford vehicle -- aside from the third vehicle on this list -- in the last decade: surpass 300,000 annual sales in the United States.
Consumers have been driving the Escape off dealer lots in droves. It has plenty of tech features in a high-quality cabin with comfortable seating -- solid driving performance and improved fuel-economy are icing on the cake for the popular crossover.
Ford's Escape hits the sweet spot for many consumers wanting usefulness and an ability to occasionally tow, as well as a remaining a daily driver vehicle. The Escape has an EcoBoost engine option take rate of 89% with car buyers, proof that demand for SUV designs with better fuel-economy is still very high.
Ford's last vehicle on this list is certainly not the least important; the F-Series remains the automaker's most vital product.
Ford's full-size F-Series truck has been America's best-selling truck for 37 years and its best-selling vehicle overall for 32 years and counting. That means Ford's full-size truck has been king of the hill for about half of its 66-year lifespan. Even if you combine sales of General Motors' Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, Ford's F-Series has outsold the rival duo since the end of the recession.
Ford's F-Series is not only the company's best-selling vehicle in terms of volume, but it also brings in the highest transaction prices and fattest margins. Put simply, Ford's F-Series truck hauls the big bucks. So, what's better than dominating for more than three decades? How about building on its historic success to ensure future dominance.
That's what Ford is doing with its next-generation F-150, which will incorporate military-grade aluminum alloy in the truck body while improving its high-strength steel frame. That combination will keep the truck's Ford tough image, while dropping as much as 750 pounds to improve fuel-economy.
Make no mistake, this is a substantial risk for the folks at the Blue Oval. No automaker has dealt with aluminum on such a massive scale, and the metal is more difficult to work with. If Ford can pull the launch of its 2015 F-150 off without a hitch it would make Ford a first-mover and innovator in America's most important vehicle segment, leaving competitors scrambling to copy its move to an aluminum-bodied truck.
Ford's brand also commands the highest consumer loyalty in America, which will set the company up for more success down the road as it continues to roll out new vehicles, or significant refreshed models, at its fastest pace in company history this year.
Ford's success here in the U.S., since the recession, has been a remarkable story that will be discussed in business classes for decades. But the automaker's story is far from over, and to take the next step and challenge the top global automakers it must export this success overseas.
Fortunately for Ford investors or loyal enthusiasts, the Mondeo and Kuga -- known in the U.S. as the Fusion and Escape -- are also starting to resonate very well across the globe. And that's merely in addition to the Focus and Fiesta, which are already the planet's best-selling compact and subcompact nameplates.
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Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.