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Ford Gains U.S. Market Share While Cutting Incentives

July 2,2009

Ford Motor Co., the only major U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy, has been able to boost domestic market share while slashing customer incentives by 30 percent.

The second-largest U.S. automaker accounted for 18 percent of sales last month, up from 14.6 percent a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp. Ford’s incentives in the same period fell to an average $2,747 a vehicle from $3,948, the Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based research firm said.

Ford avoided the industry pattern of increasing market share by raising incentives because production cuts reduced its inventory of unsold vehicles on dealer lots, said George Pipas, the company’s sales analyst. Ford also benefited as General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC sought court protection.

“The lack of bankruptcy at Ford has put it in a very positive light among many Americans,” said auto analyst John Wolkonowicz at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts. “Ford got through without government aid, Ford has a fresh lineup and Ford is getting positive press for its quality.”

The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker stresses its efforts to keep unsold cars and trucks from piling up at dealers, avoiding the need for lot-clearing incentives. Ford cut inventory by 38 percent in the past year, compared with a 2 percent decline industrywide, Pipas said.

‘Secret Weapon’

“Keeping that inventory at just the right level, not too lean, certainly not too heavy, from the fourth quarter on, I think has been really the secret weapon at Ford,” Jim Farley, the company’s marketing chief, said yesterday.

Ford, which lost a record $14.7 billion in 2008, was suffering through a collapse of its biggest seller, the F-Series pickup trucks, a year ago as gasoline prices soared to $4 a gallon. The automaker increased rebates and delayed the introduction of a redesigned F-150 to clear a glut of the old model on dealer lots, Pipas said.

At current lower inventory levels, the revamped F-150 last month commanded an average transaction price of $30,000, an increase of $6,000 from a year earlier, Farley said.

Ford total U.S. sales of cars and light trucks declined 11 percent in June, less than half of the industry’s 28 percent drop. With demand for its vehicles outpacing competitors, Ford said on June 29 that it’s boosting third-quarter North American production by 16 percent from a year earlier.

The automaker also is gaining sales to fleet customers such as rental-car companies because GM and Chrysler idled plants as part of their bankruptcy reorganizations, Pipas said.

Competitive Advantage

“While we view Ford’s performance as impressive, we believe that it may have disproportionately benefited from GM and Chrysler’s extremely low fleet sales, which were driven by lack of production,” Rod Lache, a Deutsche Bank analyst in New York, wrote in a research note today. He rates Ford’s shares “hold.”

The automaker has been able to stay out of bankruptcy and avoid emergency government aid after it borrowed $23 billion in late 2006 before credit markets froze, pledging all its major assets as collateral.

Ford fell 2 cents to $5.89 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have more than doubled this year, posting the second-largest gain among companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

LINK: Ford Gains U.S. Market Share While Cutting Incentives (Update1) -
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