Ford Shortages Hold Back U.S. Auto Sales Totals

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DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Experts are projecting that U.S. auto sales will show a double-digit increase in July, continuing a four-year trend of sales increases. The increase could be even more but it appears sales are being held back because Ford can't make enough vehicles.

That is, of course, a good problem to have as Ford continues its turnaround story. Ford shares are up 31% this year, after closing Thursday at $16.96. One year ago Friday, shares traded around $9 as sagging European sales spooked investors.

"Ford at $9: A Second Chance to Buy Alan Mulally's Crisis Management." proclaimed a headline in TheStreet.

On Wednesday, Ford reported that its second quarter results improved in every region including Europe. In North America, Ford produced profits of $2.3 billion and a 10.4% profit margin, leading major automakers.

July U.S. light-vehicle sales are due to be reported next Thursday. Deutsche Bank analyst Rod Lache said the pace of sales will likely slow from June's seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 15.9 million.

"The driver of the slowdown appears to be almost entirely Ford, whose inventory of Focus, Fusion, Explorer and Escape has become extremely tight ahead of additional shifts coming on line in Q3," Lache wrote in a recent report.

Lache estimated that the SAAR would be 400,000 units higher "if Ford achieved the same proportion of sales that it has been achieving year-to-date." He said Ford's market share could decline to 14.3%, compared with 16.2% year-to-date.

On Ford's earning calls Wednesday, Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks declared, "Our retail market share declined from first quarter reflecting primarily lower dealer inventory of some products including Fusion and Explorer.

"We expect to address these constraints in the second half with the launch of Fusion at our Flat Rock assembly plant and an increase in Explorer capacity at our Chicago facility," Shanks said. Additionally, Ford is putting on a third crew at its Kansas City pickup truck plant.

Later, CEO Alan Mulally was asked about the impact of capacity constraints on first-half sales.

"Clearly as we say we're getting a little tight on inventories on vehicles like Fusion," Mulally said. "We're taking some actions around that ... We probably leave a few sales on the table, but we're rectifying that as we go into the second half of the year."

Edmunds.com data supports the view that Ford has lost sales this month. "In a bit of a surprise, Edmunds.com projects that Toyota will beat out Ford in total sales this month, the first time since March 2010," Edmunds said Thursday, in a prepared statement.

"The Japanese automaker will claim 15% of U.S. auto sales in July, its highest share since January 2013," the firm said. "Ford's share, meanwhile, is expected to fall 2.2 percentage points from June, the biggest month-to-month decrease of any automaker. Its projected 14.6% share this month will be the company's lowest single-month share since August 2009 (14.3 %)."