A fire at a Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) supplier has forced the company to shut down its F-150 and F-Series Super Duty production lines at three plants. This is very bad news for Ford. The company’s F-Series trucks accounted for more than a third of total vehicle unit sales in the first quarter of this year.
The bad news for Ford could turn into good news for General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (NYSE: FCAU), makers, respectively, of the Chevy Silverado and the Ram pickups that compete with the F-Series trucks from Ford. A lot depends on how long the supplier plant is offline.
According to a report at CNN, Ford has about 84 days of supply available, which means that after about a month, when the inventory falls to a supply of about 50 days, dealers and customers may be unable to get the trucks they want with the right engine, cab size or trim level. That may send them to a Chevy or Ram dealer.
In 2014 when Ford was transitioning its F-150 to its aluminum body style the company’s pickup sales fell between 1% and 2% year over year for several months running. That transition took about a year to sort itself out and during that time both Silverado and Ram made some decent, but ultimately temporary, market share gains.
This time around the damage to Ford’s sales is not expected to be nearly as bad. In a statement released Wednesday, a Moody’s executive said:
Although near-term profits will weaken due to the shutdown, current inventory levels of the two vehicles, combined with accelerated production after facilities come back online, should make up for any initial shortfall.
Chevy and Ram could pick up some sales in the short term by sweetening incentives for their own trucks, but they are already making some pretty impressive offers. Dealer data compiled by J.D. Power and Bloomberg showed that incentives for the Ram 1500 pickup averaged $7,173 last month, and Silverado 1500 incentives averaged $6,517. Ford discounted its new F-150s by an average $4,745 in April.
Both Silverado and Ram have new models set to reach dealer showrooms later this year and these rich incentives are probably aimed at helping clear inventory of older models. As generous as the incentives are, they were likely to rise over the summer, and the work stoppage at Ford could accelerate what was going to happen anyway.
Automakers’ estimated profit on a pickup truck is more than $10,000, according to most estimates, so there’s plenty of wriggle room for pricing. Maintaining or growing market share is what’s important. Whether GM or Ram will use this opportunity to boost share will depend on how badly they want it and if they think they can hold on to it once the F-Series trucks are back in production.