It's been a pretty busy couple of weeks within the automotive industry, with topics ranging from the Los Angeles Auto Show to Volkswagen Group's diesel emissions scandal. While it's important for investors to keep track of information surrounding their companies, it can be nearly impossible unless it's your full-time job. With that in mind, here are two big stories for Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) investors to keep in mind as we head toward 2016.
Sales event bust?
Ford's "Friends & Neighbors" promotion was axed nearly a month earlier than the folks at the Blue Oval had planned. The event was designed to offer consumers value by giving them a set discounted price the minute they walked onto dealership lots, and there is value in no-haggle pricing, to be sure. The event offered most Ford vehicles at prices within $200 of the dealer invoice amount. Unfortunately, Ford found that the promotion didn't work for some of its best-selling vehicles.
"We found that it didn't work as well on Escape, Focus, Fusion, Fiesta, and that's part of the reason we're moving off of it," said Mark LaNeve, Ford's vice president for U.S. marketing, sales and services, on a sales conference call. "We just didn't have the low-interest-rate financing that those customers are looking for, which we'll have in December."
In November, sales of Ford's Escape and Focus dropped a staggering 18.5% and 24.7%, respectively, compared to last year. The Fusion and Fiesta posted less drastic declines of 4% and 0.4%, respectively, again compared to last year's November.
On the bright side, while the "Friends & Neighbors" deal wasn't as successful with some of Ford's best-selling vehicles, it was great at driving sales of higher-priced vehicles. In fact, Ford's average transaction prices, or ATPs, rose by $3,800 from last year's November, with incentives remaining roughly flat.
So, to turn sales around for December, Ford is offering most of its vehicles with zero-percent financing, 60-month loans, plus $1,000 cash back; the company noted it took a lot of consumer feedback that suggested zero-percent financing was a high priority. If this helps spark sales in December with strong ATPs, it will help fuel another very profitable quarter at Ford.
Another topic of interest to Ford investors was certainly the company's new contract with the UAW.
Labor costs rise
Investors knew this day would eventually come: the day when union workers would insist on a larger slice of the profit pie now that Detroit automakers have regained their health in the years following the financial crisis. Ford believes its annual increase in costs related to the new contract will be no more than 1.5%, despite giving veteran workers the first raises in a decade and allowing lower-paid workers to reach top-tier wages within an eight-year time frame.
The Center for Automotive Research estimated that Ford's labor costs, which include wages and benefits, will jump to $60 an hour by 2019, which is roughly $8 to $10 higher than that of foreign automakers operating in the U.S. market. However, it brings Ford roughly to parity on labor costs with crosstown rival General Motors, and closes much of the pay gap with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
The good news for investors is that the contract will enable Ford to use significantly more lower-paid temporary employees to increase production during vehicle launches -- which would have been helpful during the highly anticipated launch of its 2015 aluminum-bodied F-150. The option gives the automaker some added flexibility to better match supply and demand if there's a change in the economy that impacts new vehicle sales.
Ultimately, getting the labor contract hammered out was necessary for the company, and altering its holiday sales strategy should prove a good move as Ford prepares to close the book on a very profitable 2015. With cheap financing still available and gas prices remaining low, expect the auto industry to maintain its momentum heading into 2016, which is good news for investors.