DETROIT -- To understand why CEO Jim Hackett is urgently overhauling Ford Motor Co., look no further than the surging subcompact crossover segment.
The U.S. market for diminutive models including the Subaru Crosstrek, Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V and Chevrolet Trax has grown more than sixfold since the start of the decade and will surpass 1 million units for the first time this year, according to LMC Automotive. Ford is just showing up with the EcoSport hitting showrooms this month.
Hackett took over as CEO of Ford in May partly because the automaker had been flat-footed bringing small crossovers, midsize pickups and electric vehicles to market. Late arrivals to these segments cost the company customers as industrywide demand shrank last year for the first time since the recession.
"Just by having an offering, we're already going to grow our business by maintaining our own customer base," Michael O'Brien, group marketing manager of Ford SUVs, said in an interview. About 10 percent of rivals companies' subcompact crossover sales have been to U.S. consumers who owned Ford vehicles, he said.
Ford probably will begin this year with another down month, with analysts projecting a 1.5 percent decline in light-vehicle sales, according to a Bloomberg News survey. While F-series pickups remain dominant, the EcoSport is a newcomer and the midsize Ranger truck shown at the Detroit auto show earlier in January won't start selling until 2019.
These absences help explain why Ford has been struggling to cope with the rapid consumer shift to crossovers, SUVs and pickups as well as some of its rivals. Industry sales of light trucks, which include crossovers and SUVs, probably will jump about 5 percent this month while car deliveries drop by 3 percent, Goldman Sachs analysts estimated in a report last week.
The annualized pace of total sales last month probably slowed to about 17.1 million cars and light trucks, the average estimate of 11 analysts.
"We expect strong mix to at the very least hold in for 2018, and more likely to further improve," Brian Johnson, an analyst with Barclays, said in a note to clients Tuesday. This will keep boosting average selling prices and automakers' profit margins, he wrote.