How Ford Managed a Sales Gain in Europe in 2017

Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) said that its sales in Europe rose 0.5% in 2017, as it managed to offset a months-long shortage of Fiestas with stronger sales of its crossover models.

For the month of December, Ford's sales in Europe fell 5.9%. That was worse than the overall European market's 4.7% decline; the difference was, once again, largely due to the Fiesta.

Ford Europe sales: The raw numbers

Ford sold about 96,900 vehicles in December in the 20 Western and Central European markets that it considers its primary market in Europe (the "Euro 20," in Ford's lingo). That was down 5.9%, or about 6,100 vehicles, from its total in December 2016. Ford's market share in the region dropped by about a tenth of a percentage point from a year ago, to 7.4% for the month.

For the full year, Ford's sales in the Euro 20 were up 3.1% from 2016, but its market share in the region fell slightly to 7.7%.

In Europe as a whole, including Russia, Turkey, the former Soviet republics, and the countries of Eastern Europe (what Ford calls the "Euro 50"), Ford sold about 123,300 vehicles in December, down 2.9% from a year ago. Ford's market share in the Euro 50 was flat from a year ago, at 7.4%.

For the full year, Ford's sales in the Euro 50 rose 1.4% from 2016, and its market share came in at 7.5%, down 0.2 percentage points.

The big story of 2017: The all-new Fiesta

The little Fiesta is arguably an afterthought for most Ford dealers in the U.S., but it's a different story in Europe. The subcompact is Ford's biggest seller in the Old World, with almost 300,000 sold in 2016.

That number fell significantly (by almost 44,000) in 2017 -- not because the Fiesta suddenly became unpopular, but because there weren't enough to go around. Ford launched an all-new version of the Fiesta early in 2017, but it was slow to ramp up production, and many dealers sold out of their remaining stock before receiving the new models in quantity.

The upshot: a lot of lost sales for Ford. The company hopes to make up some of that lost ground in the first half of 2018.

The other big story: A jump in crossover sales

Some buyers who couldn't get Fiestas probably shopped elsewhere. But the numbers suggest that quite a few bought a new Ford crossover SUV instead. Sales of the tiny EcoSport, compact Kuga (twin to the U.S.-market Escape), and midsize Edge rose 14.5%, 27.4%, and 63.3% respectively last year -- a total of about 45,000 additional Ford crossovers sold versus 2016.

That nicely offset (and then some) the lost Fiesta sales. It also made Ford the biggest seller of crossovers in Europe for the third straight year.

What it means for investors

Ford's sales in Europe rose about 1% in the fourth quarter, not a lot. But the "mix" of products that Ford sold -- more crossover SUVs, fewer Fiestas than a year ago -- hints that Ford's pre-tax profit in Europe might improve from the solid $166 million it brought home in the fourth quarter of 2016.

We'll know for sure when Ford reports its fourth-quarter and full-year 2017 earnings on Jan. 24.

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John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.