Ford is raising its forecast for 2012 U.S. vehicle sales by a half-million vehicles as the industry rebounds faster than anticipated.
The Dearborn automaker's U.S. market share fell 0.8 of a percentage point to 15.2 percent in the first quarter, a harbinger of what could happen in the full year, Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas, said Wednesday at a Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference in New York. Some of the falloff is attributable to cutting rental fleet sales 3%.
Ford now expects Americans to buy between 14.5 million and 15 million vehicles this year, including medium- and heavy-duty trucks. It had previously forecast a range of 13.5 million to 14.5 million. Through the first three months, sales have run at a 14.9-million annual rate.
Customers are not just those who need a new vehicle, but also those who want one, Fields said.
To meet anticipated demand, the automaker is adding shifts to handle new vehicles such as the redesigned Escape in Louisville, the new Transit commercial van in Kansas City, Interceptor police vehicles in Chicago and the Focus in Wayne, Mich. Together, that will give Ford capacity to build 400,000 more vehicles by this fall.
Until the extra capacity comes online, "production outlook will be lower than demand for our products," Fields said. "By the fourth quarter, we will be able to support a larger market in the mid-16-million (sales) range," he said.
More demand than supply is a scenario automakers like because they can dial back on incentives, sell vehicles at close to sticker price and generate larger profit margins.
"North America net pricing will be positive," Fields said, but not as strong as 2011, when natural disasters in Japan and Thailand cut inventory, crippled production and hurt Japanese automakers' sales.
The average new Ford Focus, for example, is selling for $3,100 more than the old model, Fields said.
Buyers are embracing Ford's lineup of fuel-efficient vehicles -- 11 of which have direct-injection, turbocharged EcoBoost engines.
There are more to come with the new Ford Escape and a Focus Electric about to hit the market. Ford also will tackle the key midsize sedan market with the all-new 2013 Fusion coming in the fourth quarter, soon followed by its luxury-mate the Lincoln MKZ. The Fusion and new C-Max crossover are also coming with hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions.
Fields said Ford expects 10-25 percent of global sales will be electrified vehicles by 2020.
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