Something funny is happening at Ford. Despite very heavy competition from a host of automakers, Ford is gaining market share at a brisk pace -- and it's doing so thanks in part to the success of eco-friendly, tech-heavy cars and crossovers.
From January through May of this year, Ford gained nearly full point of market share in the U.S., ending at 16.2 percent. A full point may not sound like much, but remember, growing market share isn't just a matter of selling more vehicles; it's a matter of luring customers away from other brands.
That said, Ford also saw double-digit sales growth during the first five months of the year. On the whole, Ford sales have shot up 12 percent since the beginning of 2013.
Some of Ford's success is due to a focus on what it calls the "super segment", which consists of small and midsize cars and compact crossovers like the 2013 Ford Escape. These have proven very popular in urban areas, particularly along the east and west coasts of the U.S. In fact, according marketing research firm Polk, in those regions, Ford is just one percentage point of market share behind Honda -- one of the most popular brands on the coasts.
While Ford is undoubtedly drawing more customers these days, the company is also making more cash from upgrades. According to Jim Farley, Ford's head honcho for global marketing, "Customers are increasingly choosing highly equipped vehicles such as our Titanium models. We also see this in customers asking for our in-vehicle connectivity Sync and MyFord Touch systems, which are now in 79 percent of vehicles across the Ford brand – more than double the rate of Toyota and Honda infotainment systems."
As interesting as this news may be for green car fans, there are a few caveats we should mention:
- Ford's growth isn't solely due to eco-friendly rides. It's also attributable to a rise in pickups sales. Ford trucks are up 11 percent for the year, and the super-popular F-Series is up a staggering 22 percent. That's due largely to the rebounding housing and construction sectors. As a reminder, fuel economy for the F-150 -- the most American vehicle on the market -- is around 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway.
- Ford's infotainment technology may be popular with shoppers, but it remains Ford's Achilles heel. Farley is correct when he say that most new-car shoppers opt for MyFord Touch and Sync, but what he neglects to mention is that those two systems have pushed Ford near the bottom of the barrel in initial quality rankings.
- Ford is making some great, fuel-efficient automobiles these days, but the company has still managed to ruffle feathers. In particular, customers have complained that the Ford C-Max and Fusion hybrids don't earn their advertised fuel economy. Ford has responded -- quite rightly -- that hybrid fuel economy is subject to more fluctuation than fuel economy in conventional cars, but it still needs to educate consumers (and the Environmental Protection Agency) on that front.