DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. last week said it expects a "breakthrough year" ahead after its earnings fell by $4 billion in 2014 amid a flurry of vehicle launches.
Ford barely kept its streak of 22 consecutive profitable quarters alive in the fourth quarter. It posted full-year net income of $3.2 billion, a 56 percent drop from 2013.
CEO Mark Fields said the work done in 2014 has positioned the automaker for big gains this year, though he cautioned that the majority of 2015 profits won't come until the second half.
"Very strong growth and substantially improved financial performance are expected in 2015, driven by our investments in new products and capacity," Fields said on a conference call with analysts and reporters. "Looking ahead, the global automotive industry presents substantial growth opportunities, as well as rapid change, and we intend to take advantage of both."
Ford has 15 new products on the way to dealers in 2015. It launched 24 vehicles last year, including 16 in North America. The most important of those introductions, the redesigned F-150 pickup, is still in the early stages but "exactly on plan," Fields said.
Dealers won't get a full supply of the 2015 F-150 until about April, which will negatively affect first-quarter earnings, Ford said. Still, executives said there has been big demand for the trucks shipped so far, putting the F series on pace for its best January since 2004.
"Vehicles are literally flying off the lots," CFO Bob Shanks said. "Mix is extremely rich. Pricing is very, very healthy."
In North America, Ford earned $6.9 billion last year, 22 percent less than it did in 2013. As a result, about 50,000 hourly UAW members at Ford will receive profit-sharing checks averaging $6,900, down from last year's record average payout of $8,800.
Ford said it expects to earn a 2015 pretax profit of $8.5 billion to $9.5 billion, in line with guidance it provided in September. It projected that operating margins would improve after falling to 3.9 percent last year, from 5.4 percent in 2013.
"I think we'll do much better than that in 2015," Shanks told reporters at Ford headquarters this morning. "We do expect to see a substantial increase in our wholesales this year. You're going to see a pretty big step up ... and our share improve as well. You're going to see a lot of strong growth numbers from Ford in 2015."
Ford Motor Co. sales slipped 1 percent in the U.S. last year, with its share falling to 14.9 percent from 15.9 percent at the end of 2013.
In Europe, Ford's losses narrowed to $443 million in the fourth quarter and $1.1 billion on the year. Ford lowered its guidance for Europe, saying it expects to do better than last year but worse than the $250 million loss it previously projected.
Ford's fourth-quarter results included a previously disclosed $800 million pretax charge related to currency devaluation in Venezuela. Ford said it is removing its Venezuelan operations from future earnings reports because its ability to build and sell vehicles there has been severely restricted.