A forecast of February car sales in the United States does not yet show an effect of the coronavirus. Cox Automotive predicts nationwide sales will rise 5.9% to 1,330,000, compared to the same month last year. Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) is expected to do better, with sales higher by 7.1% to 185,000. That means it will tie Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) sales, which are expected to be up only 0.1% to the same level. Ford continues its struggles while several rivals take U.S. market share.
Sales of market leader General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) are expected to have grown 5.3% in February to 220,000. The number three U.S. manufacturer, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (NYSE: FCAU), is expected to post a gain of 5% to 170,000.
Among the midsized car companies, American Honda sales are expected to rise by 8.6% to 125,000. Nissan’s sales are expected to be down 12.5% to 100,000. Hyundai Kia sales are expected to be 10.4% higher to 100,000.
Ford’s troubles are in part due to its abandonment of cars in favor of a ramp-up in sport utility vehicle and pickup products. Only the Mustang and the Focus Active crossover remain. Ford believes that if it can dump most of its cars, it can cut losses by slimming down to just making vehicles like its Ford F-150 and Explorer SUV. While the decision makes sense on paper, Ford will be left in trouble if Americans move back to smaller cars because of a potential surge in gasoline prices.
The other risk to Ford’s plan is that the American car market is the healthiest large one in the world. China sales continue to fall enough so that the United States actually may top it in sales, which has not happened since 2008. Like GM, Ford has a small footprint in Europe, which means Ford cannot look there for leverage of its planned, but regularly delayed, turnaround.
Ford needs to make a stand somewhere, if it can. Its share price is down 21% this year and 35% in the past two years. Without a rise in sales in its home market, Ford’s stumbles will continue.