How Toyota Blew Past Ford Last Month

Toyota outsold Ford in the U.S. in July. Here's what happened.

Aug 2, 2014 at 1:30PM

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Ford's F-150 is its -- and America's -- biggest seller, but gains have been subdued while Ford's factories switch to the all-new 2015 model. That may have cost Ford second place in the U.S. last month. Source: Ford Motor Co.

Ford (NYSE:F) said on Friday that its U.S. sales were up 9.5% in July, thanks to strong results for the Fusion sedan and key SUV models. 

That was good enough to beat analyst estimates according to Bloomberg. But it wasn't good enough to beat Toyota (NYSE:TM), which outsold Ford for the first time in almost a year to seize second place in the U.S., behind General Motors (NYSE:GM).

What happened?

Both saw big gains for SUVs and sedans...
Both Ford and Toyota made big gains with their popular SUV models, as more and more buyers are choosing "crossover" SUVs over traditional cars. 

Sales of Ford's Escape were up 19% in July, and sales of its big Explorer were up almost 32%. Toyota's RAV4 was up 31.8% -- just enough to out-sell the rival Escape by 221 units -- and its 4Runner saw a huge jump, with sales rising over 64%.

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Sales of Ford's Escape rose 19% last month — but Toyota's RAV4 managed to do just a little better. Source: Ford Motor Company.

Both also saw strong gains for their midsize sedan entries, with Toyota's Camry up almost 15%, and Ford's Fusion rising almost 17%. 

Ford noted that retail sales of the Fusion were up even more in July, 22%, thanks to strong West Coast sales -- where the Fusion is said to be winning customers away from Toyota and other Japanese brands, according to Ford officials.

But that's where the similarities ended.

...but Toyota's small cars beat Ford's in a big way
Ford is much stronger than Toyota when it comes to pickup sales. Ford's F-Series isn't just the top-selling pickup line, it's America's best-selling vehicle, period -- while sales of Toyota's Tundra lag far behind the Detroit stalwarts. The F-Series outsells the Tundra by about six to one, most months.

But F-Series sales were up just 4.6% in July. That's no surprise -- Ford actually planned to give up a bit of market share in pickups this year because it's expecting to lose about 90,000 units of production while it converts its factories to make the all-new 2015 F-150

Ford has reduced its incentives on the F-Series in order to preserve its profits while selling fewer trucks, but it is selling fewer trucks than it would be if its factories were able to run flat-out.

That may have put it at a disadvantage in the monthly numbers game with Toyota.

Just as Ford leads Toyota in trucks, Toyota has a big advantage over Ford in cars. Not only does the Camry out-sell the Fusion by a wide margin (67% in July), but its Corolla and Prius together normally out-sell Ford's Focus, Fiesta, and C-Max.

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Sales of Toyota's redesigned Corolla have been very strong. U.S. sales were up 26% last month. Source: Toyota.

The Corolla in particular has been on a tear. New for 2014, the Corolla -- which battles the Focus globally for the title of world's best-selling car -- was up 26% in July to almost 31,000 sold. Meanwhile, the Focus may out-sell the Corolla in some parts of the world (like China), but here in the U.S, it's far behind: 17,724 were sold in July, a gain of just 5.7%.

Toyota also gets a boost from its Lexus luxury brand, which outsold Ford's Lincoln brand by more than three to one last month.

So, is Ford now stuck in third place, behind Toyota?
Probably not.

Toyota deserves some credit. It has bounced back very well from its recall debacle -- and from the massive supply disruptions that followed the Japanese tsunami. Its Camry, Prius, Corolla, and RAV4 all continue to be very strong sellers here in the U.S.

Ford is still well ahead of Toyota in total U.S. sales year to date, and there's a good chance Ford will outsell Toyota in most of the months to come. 

Pickup sales tend to pick up strongly (so to speak) in the fall; even with its temporarily reduced production capacity, Ford should still see big sales totals, likely more than enough to outdo its big Japanese rival.

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. 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.

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