A Pleasant Surprise in Ford Motor Company's Soaring China Sales

By Markets Fool.com

Image source: Ford Motor Company.

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There's nothing like a good sales report out of China, an increasingly important market for global automakers, especially after U.S. new-vehicle sales checked in with an unremarkable month. After the first quarter brought very volatile swings in Chinese new-vehicle sales, it definitely looks like Ford Motor Company's (NYSE: F) results have improved sequentiallyover the past few months.

Chart by author. Data source: Ford Motor Company.

Let's dig into the data and highlight some takeaways for investors.

10,000-foot view

Ford continues to drive its sales in China higher, and put together an excellent September with sales rising 24% compared to the prior year, to more than 109,000 units. Through September, Ford's sales reached nearly 880,000 units, an impressive double-digit gain of 11% compared to the prior year.

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"Ford has been building momentum month after month, winning new customers with the most exciting and appealing lineup we have ever offered in China," said Peter Fleet, vice president of marketing, sales, and service for Ford Asia Pacific, in a press release.

Similar to the returned surge of SUV sales in the U.S. market, Chinese consumers are also buying into the trend. In fact, sales of Ford's EcoSport, Kuga (Escape), Edge, Everest, and Explorer, and Lincoln's MKC, MKX, and Navigator have combined for almost 230,000 units sold -- a solid 18% jump over last year.

A pleasant surprise

While we've grown to expect consistently rising SUV sales in China, investors weren't sure what to expect from Lincoln as it made its Chinese debut. Investors were hopeful the folks at the Blue Oval could clone the quick rise of its mainstream brand in China and make the same moves with its luxury Lincoln brand.

It's certainly too early to call it a sure thing, but the initial results are promising. Lincoln's year-to-date sales in China checked in a handful of vehicles below 21,000 units, which was good enough for a staggering 191% gain over the prior year. September also marked Lincoln's best month ever in China, driven by record sales for all four Lincoln models selling there -- the MKZ, MKC, MKX, and Navigator. And the Lincoln Continental will reach dealerships in China later this year, which should ensure another solid year of sales gains in 2017.

Investors must keep perspective

Sure, it's a nice PR spin to call Lincoln one of the fastest-growing luxury auto brands in China -- and it's true -- but investors need to keep in mind that this strategy will take many years to move the needle. General Motors'Cadillac brand, which debuted in China some time before Lincoln made its first appearance, posted a 63% rise in sales, to 12,500 units, last month. In terms of year-to-date figures, Cadillac's sales are up 35% in China, to roughly 77,000 units -- more than triple Lincoln's total during the same time.

All in all, Ford's September sales result in China was all you could ask for: a strong 24% rise in total sales driven by higher-margin SUVs, and a pleasant surprise with Lincoln gaining early consumer traction. That'll help reduce the sting of a slightly disappointing U.S. sales result while investors wait for the company's third-quarter conference call later this month.

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Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.