Things are looking up for Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) in Europe. Ford said that its sales in Europe rose 4% in November from a year ago, its second monthly year-over-year increase after five consecutive months of declines.
The story in one sentence? After months of shortages, more all-new Fiestas are finally reaching Ford's European dealers.
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Ford Europe sales: The raw numbers
Ford sold about 108,100 vehicles in November 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 up 4%, or about 4,200 vehicles, from its total in November 2016.
Despite the sales increase, Ford's market share in the region dropped by about a 10th of a percentage point from a year ago, to 7.5% for the month.
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 129,500 vehicles in November, up 4% from a year ago. Ford's market share in the Euro 50 was flat from a year ago, at 7.4%.
More Fiestas mean more sales
The big story for Ford in Europe this year has been its all-new Fiesta. In the U.S., the Fiesta lives in the shadows of Ford's trucks and SUVs; it's not a big contributor to the company's overall sales results.
But in Europe, it's Ford's best-selling model -- and for the last several months, supplies have been very tight. Ford appears to have had some trouble ramping up production of the new Fiesta at its huge factory in Cologne, Germany, and that left dealers with thin supplies of what is normally a huge-selling model.
Ford hasn't explained why the production ramp-up took so long. (It's possible that the issue was with a supplier, not with Ford itself.) But the delayed launch cost Ford quite a few sales: Through November, Ford has sold 236,500 Fiestas in Europe this year, down by a whopping 38,100 from the same period in 2016. That's not what we expect to see with an all-new model.
The good news is that the problem appears to be coming to an end. Fiesta sales were still down 7.5% in November from a year ago, or about 1,700 vehicles. But that's a much smaller gap than we've seen in recent months. Ford's sales chief for Europe, Roelant de Waard, said that Ford now expects Fiesta sales to continue to climb from here.
Ford is also selling a lot of SUVs in Europe right now
SUVs are so hot right now that even European car buyers, who have long preferred small rides, are increasingly choosing SUVs over traditional sedans and hatchbacks. That surge in demand has helped Ford partially offset the impact of the Fiesta, and it continued in November. Sales of the three SUVs that Ford offers in Europe were up 32.6% in November. The big seller is the Kuga, the European twin of the Escape: Ford sold 12,500 Kugas in Europe in November, up 71% from November 2016.
Ford also noted that its sales "mix" is a profitable one right now. Sales of what Ford calls "high-series" vehicles, which include the Titanium and Vignale luxury trims, as well as high-performance models, made up 66% of its passenger-vehicle sales in Europe in November. That's up 7.1 percentage points from a year ago.
Speaking of high performance, Ford said that European sales of the Mustang rose 36% from a year ago, to about 1,100 total. And, Ford's PR folks noted cheekily, the Mustang was Germany's best-selling sports car in November -- out-selling the Porsche 911 on its home turf.
What it means for investors: Better results ahead
Ford's European operation is critical to providing the global scale it needs to be competitive. Ford Europe has been more profitable in recent years than some rivals, but profits have been way down in 2017: Through the first three quarters, Ford Europe has generated just $178 million in operating profit, down sharply from $1.04 billion in the first three quarters of 2016.
Rising costs have been part of that story, but the money Ford spent to launch the all-new Fiesta -- and the short supplies -- have been a big factor. Now that those are fading into the rearview mirror, it's reasonable to expect Europe to make a bigger contribution to Ford's bottom line.
But it's possible that we won't really see that happen until 2018. We'll know a lot more when Ford reports fourth-quarter results in January.
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