Ford Motor Co. is expanding its production capacity to take advantage of the shift in buyer sentiment toward smaller cars and SUVs and for F-series truck sales spurred by the housing market recovery.
Ford said it will increase production by about 200,000 vehicles to 3.4 million this year. Part of that expansion will take place at the automaker's Flat Rock, Mich., assembly plant, which will be adding workers and shifts to meet strong demand in California and the West Coast.
Ford said California has become its fastest growing market for sales of its Fusion midsize sedan, which have climbed by 118% in the state through April, up to 7,000 cars.
Ford will be adding about 3,500 entry-level workers as part of the expansion.
"We have a great opportunity here," said Erich Merkle, U.S. sales analyst for Ford, in an interview. "This is much different from the recoveries of the past. We are getting to play both sides of it, in smaller cars and SUVs and in full-size trucks."
What Merkle meant was that this was not a single shift from higher efficiency and better mileage cars to trucks. The U.S. auto sales booms is moving in two, very distinct and separate directions, he said.
The transition from larger cars and SUVs to smaller vehicles is "still very much alive," Merkle said, adding full-size truck sales growth "is a separate phenomenon" tied to the housing market recovery.
Through the first four months of this year, Ford has sold 808,800 vehicles in the U.S., a 12.7% gain from the same period a year earlier. Its U.S. market share has jumped to 16.3% from 15.4% in the same period a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp.
Other domestic automakers also are gaining a bigger share of the U.S., just not as much as Ford.
General Motor Co.'s share of U.S. auto sales climbed to 18.1% through the first four months of this year, up from 17.7% in the same period a year earlier. Chrysler Group’s share of the U.S. market also grew rose to 11.8% from 11.6%.
Fusion sales are a big part of the surge, said Jeff Schuster, global forecaster at LMC Automotive.
"Fusion sales were a little slow out of the gate, but now that it is out in the showrooms it is doing really well," Schuster said.
Alex Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said Ford had seen a 25% increase in sales of the Fusion in the U.S. in the first quarter in the midsize sedan segment, which overall increased by just 1.5%
Gutierrez said that sales of small SUVs in the U.S. were up 18% in the first three months of the year, but sale of the Ford Escape jumped by 30%.
"Both the Fusion and the Escape have been doing very well," Gutierrez said.
ALSO:Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun