We already knew that Ford's (NYSE:F) Escape was a hit. But now it's official -- and Ford wants to brag a little.
Ford said on Wednesday that the Escape has set a new record for U.S. sales of a compact SUV, with more than 150,000 sold in the first half of 2013.
Ford muscles in on the imports' turf
In the last few months, Ford executives have been stressing the big sales gains that the company has made in parts of the U.S. that are traditionally thought of as "import" territory.
These are mainly the coastal areas of the U.S, including California -- a market long dominated by Toyota, in which the Detroit brands have mostly been afterthoughts in recent years.
But that is changing: Strong new Ford products like the Escape, as well as the Fusion, the C-Max Hybrid, and Ford's small cars, have been going head-to-head with popular Toyotas like the Prius and Camry -- and in many cases, winning.
Sales of Ford's hybrids have boomed in 2013, while Prius and Camry sales were actually down in the first half of 2013. Now, Ford is adding a second assembly line to increase production of the Fusion -- a move that could cause more headaches for Toyota when those additional cars start hitting Ford dealers this fall.
The Escape has been on a similar path. Nationwide, sales of the Escape were up a little more than 23% in the first half of the year, but in some key markets, the gains were significantly bigger. Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle says that retail registrations of the Escape -- these aren't fleet sales -- were up 33% in coastal U.S. markets, traditionally the import brands' strongest territory.
Stealing sales directly from Honda and Toyota
A lot of those sales are what the industry calls "conquest" sales, which are sales where a customer trades in a competitor's product. Ford says the conquest rates for the Escape were 58% in San Francisco, 54% in New York and Los Angeles, and 53% in Boston. Anything above 50% or so is considered very good.
And in all of those markets, the top competitive conquests were either Toyota or Honda.
This is exactly the sort of thing Ford investors have been hoping to hear for a few years now. Ford's much-talked-about product overhaul has led to a line of cars and trucks that are clearly far better than anything the company has done before and far more competitive with the import mainstays.
But it has been an open question for a while: Would consumers who had become loyal to brands like Toyota and Honda be willing to give these much-improved Fords a chance? Many weren't, at first. But now it's starting to look like word is getting out -- and that bodes well for Ford's sales, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.
Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. Follow him on Twitter at @jrosevear. The Motley Fool recommends and 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.