SAN FRANCISCO -- Ford division's market share slipped a full point in 2014, but its dealers generated record earnings for a third consecutive year, executives said.
For 2015, the company aims to recoup that lost share and help dealers become even more profitable, but without major changes in strategy.
Ford Motor Co. has new U.S. and global sales chiefs this year, but the biggest positive factor will be more inventory of updated models, said Stephen Odell, who took over Jan. 1 as Ford Motor's executive vice president of global marketing, sales and service. The biggest of the Ford brand's 14 introductions last year, the redesigned F-150, is scheduled to reach full production in April.
"A lot of those products were not physically launched in the market until the end of the year," Odell told reporters after the make meeting here -- his first big meeting with Ford dealers. "Now the volume starts to come through as we ramp up. So on top of that we're launching more vehicles this year, and the momentum will keep going. F-series clearly is a big driver of volume growth this year."
Paul Levine, president of Brandon Ford in Tampa, Fla., said he was neither concerned nor surprised that the brand's U.S. share fell to 14.4 percent from 15.4 percent at the end of 2013. His dealership sold out of Mustangs as production of the redesigned 2015 model was ramping up and has yet to get many of the new, aluminum-bodied F-150 pickups. But Levine's store was 18 percent more profitable in 2014 than it was in 2013, and earnings in January 2015 rose even more.
"Once we get the trucks, everything will be fine," he said. "Anyone complaining right now, you need to re-evaluate your franchise agreement. This is as good as it gets."
Ford brand sales fell 1 percent last year. F-series sales, which account for nearly one-third of the brand's volume, declined 1 percent amid the model changeover and Ford's efforts to avoid depleting inventory of the outgoing truck too quickly.
But other models, including the Escape, Edge and Focus, underperformed their segments as well. Ford is preparing to roll out updated versions of the Edge and Focus soon.
"They were very clear: 'We want that market share back that we lost,'" said Allen Taylor, owner of Rapids Ford-Lincoln in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. "It was hard to sit back [last year] and watch Dodge and Chevy take our customers."
Mark LaNeve, who replaced the retiring John Felice as Ford's U.S. sales and marketing chief as of Sunday, Feb. 1, was at the make meeting but didn't address the dealers.
"It's about growth," Felice said of the upcoming year. "This is the biggest launch year in the history of our company, and we get a chance to really go after the marketplace and grow the business."