Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) investors have been waiting for sales increases in the second quarter as production of the latest version of the automaker's best-selling product, the F-150, accelerates. America's No. 1 pickup truck finally appears to be gaining more traction in the U.S. retail market, with fleet sales likely to follow in the months ahead as production accelerates to full speed, allowing fleet orders to be filled. That's great news as the folks at the Blue Oval kick off the second quarter with an expectation of increasing F-Series sales. Here's a look at how Ford's April sales numbers compared to estimates, along with some F-150 sales mix information that will give investors a reason to believe profits are about to roll in even faster.
By the numbers
First, in the cyclical and seasonal automotive industry, it's key to understand year-over-year comparisons. April 2015 was actually one of the most easily comparable months in a while, with March 2015 and April 2014 both featuring 26 selling days. Also, there were no major holidays or extra weekend days in either April to inflate sales.
Ford was expected to increase U.S. sales by roughly 5.8% year over year in April, according to data from Edmunds.com. While the company's 5.4% U.S. sales increase, to 222,498 units, missed that forecast slightly, it was still a solid month with many positives.
What were some of the highlights and was so great about the sales figures?
One reason investors should be happy is that Ford's retail sales increased 7% while fleet sales were up 1%. It's preferable that Ford's total sales are being driven higher by end consumer demand rather than less profitable fleet sales -- though, it should be noted that not all fleet sales are bad. This is a healthier sales mix for the automaker.
"Customer demand for our new vehicles continues to be strong, with the F-Series, Mustang, Transit van lineup and Edge driving retail gains in April," said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales, and service, in a press release. "Our SUVs are in particularly high demand, and the new F-150 is off to an outstanding start."
Ford's Edge is being driven off dealer lots in only 10 days on average, and its sales were up 78% in April compared to the prior year. In fact, Ford-brand SUVs had a record April month for the automaker, checking in with more than 62,000 SUVs sold. Sales of SUVs equate to fat profits, particularly when full-size trucks join the party.
Hauling in the big bucks
Ford's F-Series recorded an April retail sales gain of 8%, but overall sales declined by nearly 1% because the Kansas City plant isn't producing at full speed and can't fill fleet orders yet. That means Ford is still focusing on retail sales, which partially explains the more profitable sales mix last month. In fact, on the April sales call, management mentioned that F-150 inventory last month was running at about half of 2014 levels, which is very low historically.
Despite flat overall sales of Ford's F-Series, a bright spot was that 63% of F-150s sold last month had the EcoBoost engine option, which increases transaction prices. Even better for profits was that Ford's premium F-150 trims are selling extremely well. The premium Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum models accounted for 60% of the F-150's retail sales -- that should be a huge boost to the company's North American margins if that trend persists in the second quarter.
Ford's iconic Mustang posted another amazing month. Sales rose more than 81% from April 2014, and the automaker sold nearly 43,000 vehicles through the first four months of 2015, up 60% compared to the same time frame last year.
The only real downside in Ford's April sales figures was its luxury Lincoln brand. While overall sales were up an impressive 20%, if you back out 1,866 unit sales of the MKC, which had zero units sold in the prior April, Lincoln's total sales checked in at roughly 6,200 compared to last year's 6,800. In fact, excluding the MKC, 4 out of 5 Lincoln models posted year-over-year sales declines.
Looking ahead, it's clear that Ford vehicles that bring in much of Ford's profits -- utilities, crossovers and trucks -- are selling very well. As production of the 2015 F-150 accelerates, expect fleet orders to start being filled and the automaker's total sales figures to thereby increase at a faster clip.