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Ford Seems Resigned to Losing No. 1 Spot

Posted by: Jim Henry on June 4, 2008

Ford Motor Co. seems surprisingly resigned, almost philosophical, about the idea that the Ford F-150 pickup is about to lose the No. 1 sales crown it’s worn for 26 years, as the best-selling vehicle, car or truck, in the United States.

“The customer will decide,” was the remarkably calm response from Jim Farley, group vice president, marketing and communications for Ford, when he was asked on June 3 whether the Toyota Camry could knock the F-150 off its No. 1 perch.

“I’m sure there’s a possibility, with these segment shifts. I really can’t predict those sort of things, that’s up to the customer,” he said.

I expected him to say, “Over my dead body,” or words to that effect.

Farley said repeatedly in a conference call with auto analysts and reporters that May was a “watershed” month. It certainly was, but especially for Ford.

No fewer that four cars outsold the F-150 in May: two Hondas, the Civic and the Accord; and two Toyotas, the Corolla and the Camry. The Ford Focus did, too, not counting a higher level of fleet sales for the F-150.

No passenger car, foreign or domestic, has outsold the F-150 or its ancestors for a full year since 1981. In all those years, there were only a couple of single months in which the Chevy Silverado or the Ford Taurus outsold the F-Series pickup, and then only with the help of generous incentives.

On May 19, I wrote a story pointing out that if the F-150 keeps falling sharply the way it has, and the Toyota Camry keeps slowly gaining the way it has, within the next couple of years the Camry would outsell the F-150.

It was a thought-provoking idea, but something I couldn’t imagine Ford quote-unquote “allowing.” By hook or by crook, even if it meant spending a ton of money on a new model, new advertising and new incentives, Ford would defend that No. 1 spot – wouldn’t they?

It turns out, maybe not.

On June 4, I followed up with George Pipas, Ford’s U.S. sales analysis manager. If anything, he was even more matter-of-fact than Farley about the inevitability that the F-150 will lose its No. 1 status.

“That’s not a top-of-mind goal for us. Top-of-mind is getting back to profitability. If you think about it, our historical infatuation with trucks and with SUVs is what got us to this point,” Pipas said.

In fact, Pipas said the market has changed so much, he thinks that a compact car, rather than a midsize car, will eventually be the No. 1 seller. That would be a small car like the Honda Civic or the Ford Focus, rather than a midsize car such as the Camry or Accord.

In the short run, the Camry has the best chance of knocking off the F-150, but small cars are coming up fast.

Reader Comments

Dearborn Observer

June 5, 2008 11:39 AM

Kudos to Farley and the rest of the like-thinking members of the management team at Ford. For too long Ford's Marketing and Sales folks have had a #1 at any cost mentality and it forced them to make some moves that were boneheaded at best. Of course, Farley shouldn't get all the credit - he's also, to a great extent, simply facing up to the reality of the marketplace.


June 6, 2008 2:15 AM

The Mulally Effect: Ford grows a brain. The huge profits the F-Series and SUVs delivered to Ford were like giving an addict more and more.

Accepting the fact that only people who truly NEED a truck will buy one--so the posers need to find something else--is exactly what Ford needs to do. Now, knowing that the truck-is-king era is dead, they need to move full throttle on revamping the car side of the product line.

The Fiesta is just the start. Ford needs to be aggressively proactive and start seriously thinking about bringing the Ka over here. I wrote to Jacques Nasser about the old Ka. He hand-wrote a nice reply, but otherwise my letter made it into the round file. Had he seen the light earlier, who knows, he still might be running the Ford Motor Company.


June 6, 2008 9:02 AM

The impending loss of the #1 title will be a bitter pill for Ford execs, but their acceptance of it gives me hope that they're on the right track. Throwing money at the problem would only postpone the inevitable.

The F-series is a very capable truck that excells at the towing and hauling for which is was designed. It's a poor choice as commuter car in today's environment, and that is what has changed.

munidas pereira M.B.A (McGill)

June 6, 2008 11:27 AM

If you want to see the future , look at Canada Gas prices are about $1.25 per litre (approx $5 per US gallon) -The extra cost is in taxes which in part pays for Canada's universal health care-
The number one seller is the Honda civic. That is where the US could be heading. Even the toyota camry/honda accord are expensive to run at the gas prices in Canada.


June 7, 2008 3:28 PM

This reminds me ofa book I just read, Ford and the American Dream by Clifton Lambreth. I think it's available at


June 10, 2008 2:16 AM

On a larger scale I see this similar to US losing its world's largest economy spot to China and India. It is not a question of 'whether' anymore but 'how soon'.

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