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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Slow Motion Train Wreck?

I saw Ford's latest sales numbers on BlueOvalNews recently. Battling insomnia, I took a look. Despite Ford's attempt to put a cheerful spin on the numbers, I see some very disturbing trends which should rattle any Ford fans who are paying attention.
  • Jaguar is catatonic*. Nothing subtle here, -41% sales from Q1 2005. They need some product, and the need it soon. Sales of the recently redesigned flagship, the aluminium bodied XJ are off 40%. The X-Type and S-Type shouldn't even be discussed in polite company.
  • The nearly forgotten Taurus sold more units, 55,833, than Fusion + Five Hundred (22,962 + 29,845 = 52,807). This had better change, or... The Fusion and 500 were supposed to replace the Taurus, and mark the beginning of Ford's competitiveness in the car business. I hate to sound like TTAC, but this is starting to look like a disaster.
  • The Mustang is selling at about the same rate as the Focus. That is, Ford is letting the Focus wither. The Focus should be a bread-and-butter car for Ford. The Mustang is nice, but it is more of a toy, not a car for the masses.
  • Freestyle sales are firming up. This is good, Ford is probably recapturing some customers who are dumping the Explorer (-25.4% vs Q1 2005).
  • The Explorer, a high-profit vehicle, is not doing well after a significant update. GM's Trailblazer/Envoy had a similar decline, but it was not updated in some time. Which means that Ford plowed millions of dollars into the Explorer update for very little return. There is a pattern here.
  • Sales of the Escape declined by 4.2%, even with the ramp up of Escape Hybrid production. Another example of Ford letting a key product slide for too long before an improvement--everyone else (Honda, Toyota) has since redesigned their compact SUVs.
  • Sales of the Freestar minivan have collapsed at a Jaguar-like pace: -34% from last year. Again, after a major update to the product, which included adding a new powertrain, structural changes, and an all new interior.
  • The F-series (F-150, F-250, etc.), which make up fully half of Ford's truck volume, showed an increase. This goes to show that fuel prices are not necessarily the driving factor in the sales of light trucks--product appeal is. Heavy trucks showed an even larger gain, +7%.
  • Volvo is not doing well, either. The new S40 declined by 4% instead of advancing. The new V50 was off by 27%. Even Volvos best seller, the XC90 SUV, which just got a Yamaha V8, slid by 2%. Some of this may be attributed to currency exchange issues, which make Volvos more expensive.
  • Land Rover's relatively new LR3 declined by 9.2%.
You can't really guess profitability from sales numbers, but from the trends, it looks like Ford is being kept afloat mostly by Mustang, F-series, and commercial fleets. This despite all the hoopla about "the year of the car". Management can make excuses about fuel prices hurting SUV sales, but then how they explain the decline of the Escape and the rise of the F-150? Recent redesigns of some key products did not appear to hold the line, while other segments such as small car and small SUV are being neglected.

How long can this continue?

*Get it? Jag? Cat...


Anonymous said...

Times are going to be real fun here in the motor city in the next few years. I'm expecting GM to be 1/8 to 1/4 of its size within 3 years. I give Ford 50% odds of bankruptcy. A GM collapse will give Ford market share, but I expect the union to FUBAR any advantage in market share gains.

Igor said...

Good comments.. but I would dare to disagree on the Taurus.. Taurus is 100% fleet sales. Fusion has base 18% or so of fleet sales and none to daily Rentals. Five HUndred has more Fleet (it is quite favored by Corporate fleets), and includes some Daily rentals.

However this means we are comparing apples to aranges.. there is no retail of Taurus.. Ford is dumping it to fleets, so it can get the lines rolling and so it does not have to dump the Fusion in there for now. In the meanswhile Fusion sales are strong... it might not have the Taurus levels, but Ford is not planning to recapture those levels... it seems 400k a year modeals are gone... the Fusion trios 200-300k sales are just fine to keep a factory running effidciently and that is of course what is important.

But again..good post...


Anonymous said...

The Focus is one that boggles my mind. When I was in Taiwan in December, fully 10% of the cabs were the new Focus that's based on the same design as the Mazda 3. If the Taiwanese, who have Hondas and Toyaotas and Mitsus to choose from - and tend to be good decision-makers - like this design, why has Ford been dallying so long in bringing it here? Someone is not only asleep at the wheel, he is in a coma.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Prophet! This is the best analysis of Ford I have seen anywhere on the web. Here are my thoughts:

- Ford's problems boil down to just two key, all important issues: 1 - Redo's/revamps take waaay too long, 2 - The redos don't leepfrog the competition, just barely keep pace. Look at the difference between the last and current generation Avalon compared to the last and current redo's of the Explorer. Enough said...

- In answer to your rhetorical "how long can this go on" question, the answer is, "Not long." No business can run that badly and survive. GM at least is showing signs of life with some actually really competitive product (Cadillac, full sized trucks, Solstice, etc). Ford owns a single car genre (Mustang).

- Focus: A disaster of gigantic proportions as the public (or at least the media) rediscovers small cars. Focus has so little respect that recent econocar comparisons in the media don't even include it. And pricewise, how do they sell the Mazda 3 here if the platform is so expensive?

- Taurus: See Focus... Too long without a redo...

- Fusion: Perfect example of Ford introducing a model merely competitive with existing cars out of the gates, not leepfrogging them.

- Windstar: See Taurus, Focus, and Fusion and combine the points...

- Mustang: For all its success and critical acclaim, we all forget that its immediate predecesor went with only a single refresh over what, an 8 or 9 year span?

- Crown Vic: I won't pile on now...

- 500: See Fusion. Same problem.

Remember the Chrysler LH (Last Hope) models? I actually remember reading an amazing quote from a planner in Automobile Magazine when they were introduced where he said, paraphrasing, "We did something we've never done at Chrysler before: We made a list of every major feature in our competitors from horsepower, to rear seat room, to handling, to cupholders, and we made sure that our models safely exceeded what we anticipated the *next generation* of Camry and Accord would do by a significant margin."

Unfortunately, Chrysler seemingly hasn't done that in a long time, and certainly Ford doesn't. I mean, besides roominess prehaps, how much of anything does the 500 exceed its existing competitors by, to say nothing of the *next* generation about to hit the streets?

GM is about to make the same mistake, I'm guessing, with the Saturn Aura. I'll bet it'll be quite good, maybe even desirable in ways, but put it up against models already out and it'll come in 3rd or 4th in comparison tests.

The domestics still haven't learned it isn't good enough to be good enough!

If they all go under, it'll be because they really never had the stomach to try to be the best.

- Garris

(Previous Ford SVT Contour owner, now BMW 330I owner since the SVT never had a successor and no other domestic maker at the time had a manual trans sports sedan)

Anonymous said...

BTW: Ford is about to recreate their XJ disaster (decent car limited by styling, performance, and accomodations that just aren't that different from the outgoing model's and don't move the emotional needle enough) with...

The Volvo S80...

And they're talking about that model replacing the S60 (which arguably, in my mind, is already better looking than the new S80!).

- Garris

sh said...

I hate to sound like TTAC...

Wrap your mitts around the GTI’s squashed crown steering wheel and you'll soon know that beauty is in the right foot of the beholder. Fire-up the uber-Golf’s in-line four and the delightful zizz blatting from the modest twin pipes foreshadows the hoonery to come.

You could never write that lame.

Uriah said...

Ignoring the enthusiast market for the Focus was a huge blunder, bringing in the C1 platform would be a step in the right direction. I'm afraid it might be too late, though.

The Friendly Grizzly said...

It is my understanding that the EPA is upping the Farago standards for 2008. He will be required to yield at least 28 cliches to the road test.

MotorAlley said...

My goodness...where to start...although the problems at Ford seem swift and sudden this has been a slow progress for at least 15-20 years...perhaps longer. GM is driving the lead with Ford shoveling coal into the steamer (or some similar visual).

It all started with the quality revolution. When the quality bus left the station, Ford, GM and Chrysler (now pronounced DaimlerChrysler...except the Chrysler is silent) were napping in their respective bench seats.

But with VRA, it was ok to nap because, after all, there was refuge in SUVs (with 4 doors!), large cars, luxury barges and trucks.

One by one, the dominoes fell, until even the safe haven of 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 ton trucks is no longer purely "domestic." Gosh...soon Toyota will be making brawny pickmeup trucks in Texas and this won't be Kansas anymore (to mangle another metaphor).

There's no place left to hide. First small cars, then midsize, then large, then SUVs, then luxury, then Minivans (remember the woeful Previa and laughable Honda?) and now...trucks.

Here's my solution...feel free to use this to save your car company.

Go back and find the high water mark for every single car/truck made in Detroit. Make an exact copy of it except drop a smooth powertrain and Audi DSG in it and make sure it can cradle and play an Ipod. Then, sit in barcalounger and watch Americans line up to balloons necessary.

Anonymous said...

Motoralley is right, and it comes down to what I was saying before:

Detroit has never wanted to compete on product...

It's all been about finding some marketing niche, flooding it, owning it as cheaply as possible, and watching the cash come in.

The imports and their emphasis on continued improvements forced Detroit for the first time to have to prioritize product perfection and not marketing spin, and they were never up to the job. They've never wanted to fight one-on-one for the title of BEST minivan, best sedan, best small car. They've just wanted the BEST SELLING one, not realizing that the BEST one these days sells best.

I remember a Ford exec made a comment about why Ford wasn't replacing the Countour/Mystique and said something to the effect of (seriously), "Well, we think the American public is voting with their dollars and want SUV's. That's why we're replacing the Contour with the Escape. In fact, we envision a future where SUV's and trucks will pretty much phase cars out all together..."

And at that moment in about 1999 I thought, "Oh my G*d, Ford is dead... They haven't learned anything from history and are completely delusional..." And they almost did it, almost had a lineup completely devoid of cars. Think about it. The 500 was an add-on to the Freestyle project to replace the Taurus, and there were powers in Ford that didn't want to replace the Mustang. And we all know how the Focus and Crown Vic was gone...

They seriously thought they could just be an SUV company. Amazing...

- Garris