DETROIT -- Though the F-150 full-sized pickup drives Ford Motor Co.’s North American sales, compact and subcompact crossovers such as the Escape/Kuga and EcoSport increasingly generate the company’s global growth, Ford marketing boss Jim Farley told journalists today.
“Most people think the F series drove our top line unit growth,” Farley said. “The No. 1 vehicle was the Escape/Kuga. No. 2 was EcoSport. Together they had about half-million-unit growth for us. The F series was a distant third.”
Global sales of the Escape/Kuga compact twins and the EcoSport subcompact both rose by more than 200,000 units in 2013, Farley said.
He said the shift to crossovers, which Ford calls utilities, is one of the most significant global trends and it’s mostly due to consumers outside North America.
He believes Ford is well positioned to take advantage of the shift.
“Something is really changing in our industry, and it’s not just one market but everywhere,” said Farley, speaking during a roundtable discussion at Ford’s world headquarters. When it comes to body styles, “crossovers and utilities are becoming the dominant silhouette.”
When other body styles, such as minivans, were introduced, they took much longer to gain a foothold. But crossovers have grown more rapidly in the past decade and a half, he said.
The number of crossover nameplates from all manufacturers shot up from 180 in 2000 to 315 in 2008 and 370 in 2014, he said.
“A decade ago, North America was the dominant place. Fast forward to today and the market outside North America is 10 million” and 5 million inside North America, Farley said.
He expects global industry crossover sales to rise from about 15 million units in 2013 to about 20 million by 2018. More than 90 percent of that growth will come from outside North America.
The shift in consumer preferences is helping Ford, which sold 1.2 million SUVs and crossovers globally in 2013, up 37 percent from the previous year.
The fastest growing vehicle among Ford crossover offerings was the EcoSport, which was developed in Brazil but launched in Europe, China and India last year. EcoSport sales shot up 220 percent in 2013.
Ford has stopped taking orders for the EcoSport in India after 60,000 orders were placed. Farley declined to say whether Ford would offer the EcoSport in the United States.
In the United States, Ford’s SUV sales rose 9.1 percent last year, less than the market’s 12 percent gain, according to Autodata Corp.
Overall, global subcompact crossover sales grew 78 percent last year, while compact crossover sales rose 18 percent.
China is one of Ford’s fastest growing markets for crossovers. In 2012, Ford had a 0.3 percent market share in crossovers. That share grew to 5 percent in 2013, built on the strength of the EcoSport, Kuga, Escape and Explorer, Farley said.
“To me the most interesting market is India. It’s the lowest revenue market in the world. SUVs are just exploding in India. It’s not high-end products like it is in Russia. It’s products like the [Nissan] Duster and the EcoSport.”
It’s not just smaller crossovers that are growing. Ford is increasingly exporting the Edge mid-sized crossover and Explorer large crossover from North America to global markets, he said.
“We used to sell most of our exports in the Middle East. That’s changed now,” Farley said. “China is now the primary opportunity for growth.”
Crossovers are also influencing global luxury markets, he said. That’s why the next Lincoln to be introduced will be the MKC compact luxury crossover, he said. The MKC is due to arrive in dealerships in significant numbers in June.
“The MKC was the right vehicle to add” to the Lincoln lineup, he said. “We could have added a sedan, but we decided on a small crossover.
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.