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US:Ford's five-year funk

Ford's five-year funk

The relentless march of Toyota and other import brands has hurt Ford far more than GM

Amy Wilson
Automotive News

DETROIT -- There's no doubt the past five years have been brutal for the Detroit automakers. But you may not realize just how unevenly the pain has been felt among the Big 3.

The relentless U.S. sales onslaught by Asian automakers -- revealed starkly again last week when final 2005 figures were released -- has taken widely divergent bites out of General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group.

The bloodiest victim? Ford, by a staggering margin.

Compare the 2005 and 2000 sales figures: Ford Motor, including its foreign brands, lost more than a million units of sales in the United States, a quarter of the automaker's 2000 volume. Sales of the Ford brand alone fell by 823,955 vehicles. Lincoln and Mercury also took severe hits.

Put another way, Ford Motor lost the equivalent of three full Mercury divisions since 2000, which was the industry's biggest sales year on record. Mercury sold 359,143 units in 2000.

By contrast, General Motors, including Saab, dropped 461,373 units during the same period, down 9.4 percent.

But GM had bright spots. Its largest brand, Chevrolet, gained 46,419 units amid the Japanese onslaught. Cadillac and GMC grew, too.

The Chrysler group suffered early in the five-year period but is newly resurgent. The Chrysler brand has gained sales, and the group's market share is up from 2004.

The Big 3's plunge can't be blamed on the decline of the overall market since 2000. The U.S. record of 17.4 million sales of cars and light trucks in 2000 was nearly matched in 2005, the third highest year with nearly 17 million light vehicles sold.

The real problem for Ford, GM and Chrysler during the five-year period: steady growth by Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai as they lured U.S. car buyers out of domestic vehicles.

Nameplates plunge
Ford's five-year free fall occurred almost across the board, led by once-vaunted nameplates:

The Explorer SUV lost 205,369 units, down about 46 percent.

Ford's minivan -- the Windstar in 2000 and the Freestar in 2005 -- lost 144,713 units, a 65 percent drop.

The Ranger pickup lost 209,167 units, down about 63 percent.

The meltdown is all the more striking when you consider that Ford was surging in the mid-1990s. Alex Trotman, Ford's CEO at the time, even set his sights on overtaking GM as the world's largest automaker.

With Ford and GM on the downswing, the juggernaut known as Toyota is now the obvious pick to gain the No. 1 spot.

Some speculate that could happen as early as this year, given Toyota's plans to increase global production another 10 percent in 2006. Toyota will start production at its San Antonio pickup plant in late 2006, adding another 150,000 units of capacity.

A Toyota franchise is something

almost no dealer would turn down. Still, it's way better to own a Cadillac or Chevy store these days than Lincoln, Mercury or Ford.

So just what happened at Ford?

'We lost our way'
"In short, we lost our way," said Mark Fields, Ford Motor's fourth new head of North America in the past five years, at last week's Los Angeles Auto Show.

"We lost touch with our customers -- particularly our car customers."

In 2005, Ford regained some traction in car sales, helped by the debut of the 2006 Ford Fusion sedan. But that didn't offset the collapse of the Explorer and other trucks, allowing the Chevy brand to grab the U.S. sales crown for the first time in 20 years.

The pain doesn't stop there.

Last year marked the 10th straight year of market share decline for Ford's domestic brands. In 1995, Ford, Lincoln and Mercury held 25.7 percent of the U.S. market -- nearly identical to GM's share in 2005 of 26.2 percent. By 2005, Ford Motor's domestic brand share had plunged to 17.4 percent.

It's time to "change or die," said Fields, the man tapped by CEO Bill Ford to turn around the company's U.S. fortunes.

Bill Ford will reveal Ford Motor's latest turnaround plan, including plant closings and job cuts, on Jan. 23. Bolder design and better brand identity, plus new crossovers and small cars, are all on the long-term agenda.

Mr. Fields: Your marching orders are clear. But the path ahead still looks muddy.

Lost and found
U.S. unit volume lost and gained, 2005 compared with 2000
Ford Motor –1,050,420
GM –461,373
Chrysler group –217,862
Toyota Motor Sales 641,090
Nissan North America 324,581
American Honda Motor 303,612

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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