Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) said that its operating income rose to $1.7 billion in the fourth quarter, from $485 million a year ago, on strong improvements in its European business and despite a shortage of pickup trucks in the United States. 

On an adjusted basis, excluding some large one-time charges, Ford earned $0.34 per share on automotive revenue of $33.2 billion. That was a better profit than Wall Street had expected: On average, analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had forecast an adjusted loss of $0.07 per share, on automotive revenue of $33.84 billion. 

Results from all of Ford's regional business units improved year over year, as did profits from its financial-services subsidiary. Of note, Ford Europe generated an operating profit of $414 million, up from just $21 million in the fourth quarter of 2019. But Ford's net loss widened to $2.8 billion from $1.7 billion a year ago, due to accounting charges related to its pension funds and the costs of a restructuring in Brazil. 

A prototype of Ford's e-Transit, an electric commercial van, with a silver Ford Mustang Mach-E electric crossover.

Ford expects to launch a battery-electric version of its Transit commercial van by the end of this year, joining the electric Mustang Mach-E. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Ford said in a statement that it is increasing its planned investments in electric vehicles and autonomous driving. The company now plans to spend more than $22 billion on battery-electric vehicles, and an additional $7 billion on self-driving. 

Ford is expecting 2021 to be a much better year, but there's an important caveat. CFO John Lawler said that Ford has been expecting to generate adjusted operating profit between $8 billion and $9 billion in 2021, up from $2.8 billion in 2020, with adjusted free cash flow between $3.5 billion and $4.5 billion. 

But those forecasts don't take into account the potential impact of a global shortage of semiconductors, Lawler said. Ford said earlier on Thursday that it will reduce production of its F-150 pickup trucks next week because of that chip shortage. 

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.