Investors were elated during Ford Motor Company's (NYSE:F) second-quarter conference call when it was announced that its operations in Europe actually turned a profit. It was a meager $14 million pre-tax profit, compared to North America's $2.4 billion pre-tax profit, but it didn't matter -- the bleeding in Europe was over.
Well, not exactly. It turns out the third quarter brought more familiar pain and profit burning. However, most investors knew the second-quarter profit wouldn't be the end of the pain; it was just a momentary celebration on the road to better days.
Fast-forward to Ford's results last month in Europe, announced Thursday, and there are still many positive takeaways. Also, there are two vehicles helping lead Ford's gains, and you probably can't guess the models.
Looking on the bright side
Despite the European automotive market being sluggish overall, and reluctant to surge as the U.S. market has, Ford has continued to outpace its competition. For the third consecutive month, Ford grew its traditional 20 European market sales at a faster pace than Europe's overall industry, with an 8.1% year-over-year increase in October.
Through the first 10 months of this year Ford has sold nearly 1 million vehicles, which is a healthy 7.8% increase over last year's same 10-month time frame. "Our new cars -- like the EcoSport SUV with its growing sales -- and commercial vehicles are helping us gain ground," said Roelant de Waard, vice president of marketing, sales and service of Ford of Europe, in a press release.
In addition to the EcoSport helping Ford gain sales traction, the automaker is also seeing success with its commercial vehicles. Ford sold 21,200 commercial vehicles out of its total 98,100 units last month, which was good for a 31% increase over last year, and its best October for commercial vehicle sales since 2007. For the first 10 months of the year, Ford's commercial vehicle sales are up an impressive 18% and have gained 100 basis points of market share to 11.3%.
Another reason for investors to be happy is Ford's continued focus on a healthier sales mix: more retail and fleet sales and less daily rental sales. Ford's year-to-date retail and fleet sales account for 74% of overall sales, which is a healthy 300 basis points better than the industry average -- helping Ford remain more profitable than many competitors during a sluggish European rebound.
What to watch
Automakers that find success in Europe do so in different ways than Ford's profit engine in North America. While Ford and other Detroit automakers rely on selling high volumes of SUV and full-size trucks in America, Europe sales focus on smaller passenger cars -- something Ford has failed to succeed with, until recently. Looking at the data below, investors have a clear takeaway of two vehicles to watch going forward.
One thing for investors to watch is how well consumers respond to the new Focus and Mondeo, the former of which is already vital to sales success, and the latter of which could increase its sales to become a third key vehicle for Ford in Europe.
Europe has been an absolute black hole for Ford's global profits, wiping nearly $4 billion off the automaker's bottom line since the beginning of 2012. Despite this extremely challenging environment, it's a silver lining that Ford has excelled with sales of its passenger cars and continues to outpace the industry and gain market share. As Ford continues to roll out new vehicles, improve its passenger vehicle lineup, and match production capacity to demand, expect an even better 2015 in Ford's most troubled region.