Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) said that its sales in Europe rose 5.4% in October, as strong SUV sales helped offset still-tight supplies of the all-new Fiesta. 

It was Ford's first monthly sales gain in the Old World since May. The Blue Oval's sales in Europe have sagged as it has worked to ramp up manufacturing of the all-new Fiesta, its biggest seller in the region. But in October, it was able to more than keep pace with big rival Volkswagen AG (NASDAQOTH:VLKAY), which reported a slight year-over-year decline in European sales for its namesake VW brand. 

A blue 2017 Ford Kuga, a compact SUV, on a mountain road.

The Ford Kuga is the European-market twin of the Escape. Like the Escape, the Kuga was refreshed for 2017. Sales have recently been strong. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

The raw numbers: Ford's market share held steady in October

Ford sold about 104,800 vehicles in October in the 20 Western and Central European markets that it considers its primary market in Europe (what Ford calls the "Euro 20"). That was up 5.4%, or about 5,400 vehicles, from its total in October 2016. Ford's market share in the region stayed roughly flat from a year ago, at 7.6% for the month.

Year to date, Ford's sales in the Euro 20 are up 0.8% from a year ago, but its market share has fallen 30 basis points to 7.7%.

In Europe as a whole, including Russia, Turkey, the former Soviet republics, and the countries of Eastern Europe (what Ford calls the "Euro 50"), Ford sold about 122,700 vehicles in October, roughly flat from a year ago. Ford's market share in the Euro 50 fell about 10 basis points from its year-ago result, to 7.3%.

Yes, SUVs are big sellers in Europe, too

We think of Europe as a place where small cars dominate the market, thanks to narrow streets and high gas prices. That's true: For years, Ford's best-seller in Europe has been the subcompact Fiesta. But the trends that have more buyers favoring SUVs over cars in the U.S. and China are starting to play out in Europe as well. And just as it is in the U.S., Ford is making hay in Europe on that jump in consumer demand for SUVs. 

Sales of Ford's SUVs as a group rose 28.5% last month, driven by a nice gain for the revamped small EcoSport (up 13%) and a big jump in sales of the Kuga. The Kuga is the European version of the compact Escape, and sales are booming: Kuga sales rose 44% in October, to about 12,400 sold. Year to date, sales of the Kuga in the Euro 20 are up 22%. 

It's still true that Europeans favor smaller vehicles, though. Ford hasn't had much luck in Europe with its midsize Edge: Sales fell 17% to about 1,000 vehicles in October. Ford doesn't even try with its larger SUVs. The Explorer and Expedition aren't offered in most of Europe. 

Ford's car sales were a mixed bag

It's harder to discern trends in the European sales results for Ford's car models, in part because supplies of the huge-selling Fiesta have been tight for several months. Supplies are improving -- Ford sold 20,500 Fiestas in Europe in October, down 9.7% from a year ago -- but totals should rise further from here over the next few months. 

Meanwhile, Ford had some success in October with the one-size-up Focus, perhaps upsetting impatient Fiesta buyers. Focus sales rose almost 20% to about 15,900, more than offsetting the Fiesta's year-over-year drop. 

But sales of the largest car Ford offers in Europe, the Mondeo, fell 4% to about 4,700. The Mondeo is a near-twin to the U.S.-market Fusion, with a twist: In Europe, it's offered in "five-door" hatchback and wagon versions. 

The upshot: A return to profitability looks likely

Ford Europe posted an $86 million loss in the third quarter, down from a $138 million profit a year ago. CFO Bob Shanks attributed that dip to a few different factors, but it was clear that the sales slump caused by tight Fiesta supplies was a big deal.

During the third-quarter earnings call, Shanks said that Ford expects Europe to be profitable in the fourth quarter because sales volumes will be higher than they were in the fourth quarter of 2016. The new Fiesta is part of that, of course, but the strong demand we're seeing for Ford's SUVs will also be a significant factor.

With a third of the fourth quarter now in the books, it looks like Ford is on track for a quarterly -- and full-year -- profit in Europe.


John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.