Yes, you read the title correctly, as hard as it is to believe. There is a bright spot, even amid the European debt crisis and an auto market that's near a 20-year low with no improvement expected for at least another year. Europe can't even find stability at the moment, much less growth. That lack of growth is causing a flurry of factory closings as companies try to cut losses in the region. Ford (F -3.12%) expects its combined losses in Europe for 2012 and 2013 to reach $3 billion, even after factory closings and layoffs attempt to minimize the damage.However, there is at least one place where Ford has found success selling vehicles, the United Kingdom. Let's look at how it did last year, and what the company's plans mean for investors.
Success by the numbers
Total 2012 car sales in U.K. were at 2,044,609 registrations, good for a 5.3% increase compared to 2011. The strong finish to the year also allowed the U.K. to replace France as Europe's second-largest auto market, behind only Germany. With the U.K. still managing to sell cars, Ford's success there is all the more important.
For 36 straight years Ford has led the U.K. market in car sales, and for 47 years it has led in commercial vehicle sales. Considering the condition of Europe, U.K.'s increase alone is that much more impressive. Even more impressive is that Ford grew sales at an even higher percentage than U.K., up 6% for 2012.
According to Mark Ovenden, Ford Britain managing director: "More people choose Ford over any other vehicle brand in the U.K. ... Ford beat overall market growth in 2012 and extended its sales lead in a fiercely competitive market thanks to the launches of award-winning vehicles and technologies and the unrivaled strength of our dealer network."
What fiercely competitive market is he referring to? Ford's 6% increase in sales helped it stretch its lead over the next competitor by over 60%, making last year one of its most dominant performances.
Leading the sales gains are the Fiesta and Focus. The former being the best seller in the U.K. for the fourth consecutive year, while the latter was at the top end of sales for the months of November and December. Ford hopes to replicate this success in 2013 and do its best to copy that success throughout Europe.
Ford has long touted excellent management led by the highly regarded Alan Mulally. That reason alone has a couple of analysts optimistic for Ford over competitor General Motors.
"What's remarkable about Ford is how quickly things are moving, which is a sign of good management," said London-based analyst Philippe Houchois. "With GM Europe, you always wonder what's going on-it looks like they are still bogged down in deciding what to do."
"Ford is demonstrating the vision and industrial courage to make tough decisions today that will pay off long term," Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said in a note to investors.
Ford investors' shouldn't lose sleep over Europe's woes just yet. While the numbers overall are depressing, and Ford will face billions in losses, management has proven it can make the right decisions quickly. While Ford tries to break even in Europe, it had record years in China and is seeing the F-Series bring in big bucks from the recovering U.S. market. When I choose stocks, one of the key factors is management -- that reason alone should have investors choosing Ford in 2013.