Ford (NYSE:F) can't compete with the performance of market darlings like electric vehicle maker NIO (NYSE:NIO), which has soared 1,000% this year. But the old-line automaker has held its own, rising 42% over the last six months, and is up over 120% from the low point it hit in March at the start of the pandemic.

On Monday, Benchmark analyst Michael Ward reiterated his buy rating on Ford stock, and in a research note to investors increased his price target to $12 from $11, a 34% increase from where it currently trades.

Ford F-150 pickup truck putting a boat into the water

Image source: Ford.

Ready to drive higher

Ward highlighted improving industry sales in North America as one of the reasons for his more bullish assessment of Ford's prospects.

Unrelated industry site Wards Intelligence says new light-vehicle sales fell slightly in November and are down almost 17% year to date compared to last year, but fleet sales are picking up again after months of declines. 

Although they're still down significantly from last year, the 25% drop in November is seen as an improvement considering sales were down 53% from March through September. There is a sense that the widespread delivery of COVID-19 vaccines could unleash an auto buying boom next year.

The Benchmark analyst also looked at new products being introduced, inventory replenishment, and Ford's own restructuring as contributing to the improved outlook. While others see the stock's turnaround story really being one for 2022, the improvements the automaker has already made could help lift earnings next year, which could ignite further gains in Ford's stock sooner than that.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.