Ford brand widens U.S. sales lead over Toyota on Fusion, Hybrids

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — Ford said Monday that U.S. sales for its main brand will surpass 2.4 million vehicles this year, as record demand for its Fusion sedan and hybrid models helps extend a lead over Toyota's namesake line.

The Ford marque entered December ahead of Toyota by 388,825 cars and light trucks, heading for its fourth straight year as the top-selling U.S. auto brand. In 2012's full-year tally, the margin was 322,521.

The brand title reflects Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally's strategy that the second-largest U.S. automaker would flourish by narrowing its focus. He sold off the Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo luxury lines, shuttered Mercury and pushed the namesake brand to complement its strengths in pickups and sport-utility vehicles with more competitive cars.

"We are not overly reliant on any one segment," John Felice, the Dearborn, Mich.-based company's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in a statement Monday. "With 16 launches next year, we're looking to keep our sales momentum going."

Demand for Fusions and hybrids such as the C-Max will boost Ford-brand sales to retail buyers to the highest since 2000, the automaker said.

The Toyota division is on pace to beat the Ford brand this year in light-vehicle retail sales, which exclude fleet customers such as rental companies, Bill Fay, group vice president for U.S. Toyota sales, said in a Dec. 5 interview. Toyota-brand sales include Scion vehicles.

"That's been a result of the recovery of the brand and the division the last couple years," Fay said. "It's not one of our stated goals. We're more focused on trying to sell our plan, satisfy our customers and support the dealers' business model."

Ford's Fusion, redesigned in 2012 with styling evocative of an Aston Martin, will exceed 290,000 sales this year, the company said in its statement. The model last month passed its previous annual sales record, set in 2011. Deliveries rose 22 percent through November, outpacing gains of 1.3 percent for Toyota's Camry and 11 percent for Honda's Accord.

Ford said its hybrid sales will top 80,000 this year, almost triple the 2012 total. By May, the automaker had beaten its previous annual best, achieved three years ago.

Keeping the hybrid gains going will be a challenge in 2014, as C-Max sales momentum slowed after Ford restated its fuel efficiency rating in August. Since the company cut the rating by 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) per gallon to 43 mpg, the C-Max has had its three worst sales months since September 2012, when the model debuted in the U.S.

The Ford brand also faces a test with the redesign of the F-150 pickup, the company's most profitable model line. IHS Automotive has estimated that Ford's large-pickup production will fall 8.5 percent in 2014 as the company's truck plants change over to the updated pickup. The revamped F-150 sheds weight through more use of aluminum in its body and will be unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January, people familiar with Ford's plans have said.

The company's statement Monday didn't give a forecast for full-year F-Series sales. Ford sold 688,810 of the pickups in the U.S. this year through November, a 19 percent increase. The F-Series, headed to its 32nd straight year as the top-selling vehicle line in the U.S., had a lead through 11 months of more than 250,000 over General Motors'sChevrolet Silverado, which held the No. 2 spot.

bc-ford (TPN)