Finally the stock market has taken notice of the improvements CEO Alan Mulally and team have made at Ford (NYSE:F), sending the stock from its 52-week low of $8.82 a share up to $15 recently. It was welcome news for investors like me who have long known the company's turnaround and growing potential. Ford's first-quarter-earnings report noted that North America brought in 11% margins with great sales figures. The good news continues with Fords recent announcement of its plans to expand plant capacity.
By the numbers
According to Ford it will be adding an additional 200,000 units of annual capacity this year – a long-term move. In a short-term move to improve capacity, Ford is going to shorten its typical summer shutdown for its North American assembly plants. That's a move that will improve production by 40,000 vehicles over the summer. As far as jobs go, that's going to add about 3,500 hourly jobs to meet the increased production.
This is great news because the increase of 200,000 vehicles will come from the Chicago, Flat Rock, and Kansas City assembly plants. Those plants happen to produce three of Ford's most important vehicles: the F-Series, Fusion, and Explorer.
Last month the F-Series posted a strong month with over 59,000 trucks sold – up 19% for the year. Ford considers anything above 50,000 a phenomenal month, and the numbers keep rising. Ford has been running a third shift in some plants, which will help secure strong margins in North America for the second quarter.
The Fusion, which is taking market share from Toyota's Camry, had been running plants at 114% capacity to try and match demand. Ford's had troubles keeping enough Fusions on dealer lots, and some consumers have been put on a long waiting list. The extra capacity will no doubt be aimed to match production with the Fusion's demand, and could help boost its sales in the second quarter.
Ford considers the retail segments of subcompact, compact, midsize sedan, and small utility segment to combine for the "super segment". Led by the Fusion, Ford has reported its market share in this super segment has increased 28%. That's a significant increase when compared to the 9% gain by the overall industry.
"Ford's share has grown this year faster than all other automakers. The driving force behind this is our phenomenal rate of growth in the super segment and our continued success with these key vehicles in the long-dominated Japanese regions of the country," said Erich Merkle, Ford U.S. sales analyst. "Once our additional manufacturing capacity on Fusion comes on line, the battle for sales leadership in the midsize segment will tighten considerably."
For investors, the additional capacity is good news for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it confirms that Ford's second quarter is likely to be just as strong in profits and margins as the first quarter. April was already a record month in sales for both the Fusion and Escape – while the F-Series had its best April since 2006. Secondly, it confirms that even if the overall market begins to slow, Ford's vehicles are still in high demand and will continue to sell well. Ford wouldn't bring on extra capacity unless it was extremely confident demand would remain strong over the next year.
In a couple weeks we'll know how May sales shaped up, and it will give us a better idea what to expect for the full quarter. One thing is clear: Expect a lot of sales, a lot of profits, and at a tremendous margin to boot.
Motley Fool contributor Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. 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.