For the first time since its near total collapse in 2009, the American auto industry is hitting top gear.
And I'm talking about the entire industry - from major car manufacturers to small parts suppliers.
Vehicle sales are on track to reach about 15 million units this year, up from 10.4 million in 2009.
As a result, factories are now operating at 95% capacity - and for the first time in four years, they're looking to add more workers, floor space and machinery.
The Center for Automotive Research says the auto industry will add 35,000 jobs this year, building on the 167,500 it's racked up since June 2009.
Here are some of the more notable hiring projections:
- Chrysler is looking to add 3,500 workers this year.
- Ford (NYSE:F) plans to hire 2,200 white-collared employees and 1,400 factory workers. It's also recalling 2,000 laid-off workers.
- And General Motors (NYSE:GM) is hiring 4,000 engineers and computer techs.
GM is also moving forward with a 500,000-square-foot addition to its Wentzville, Missouri, pickup truck plant.
So what's the best way to play this evolving trend?
On the Road Again
Ford was the only major auto company that didn't need a government bailout during the financial crisis. It's been the dominant player in the domestic industry over the past five years. And it's leading America's auto revival.
Ford sold 246,585 vehicles in the United States during May - a 14% increase from a year ago and 16% more than April's total of 212,584.
The strong performance was largely the result of higher truck sales. As Wall Street Daily's Chief Investment Strategist, Louis Basenese, said recently, Ford sold 71,604 F-Series trucks - the most since March of 2007 - as construction crews and other small businesses picked up demand.
Passenger vehicles had a strong showing, as well. Ford Fusion sales rose 10%, revenue from the new luxury Lincoln MKZ sedan is up 42%, and Ford Escape sales gained 26% - logging the vehicle's best sales month since its debut 13 years ago.
Indeed, Fusion and Escape have set sales records for four straight months, and the F-Series truck has seen 22 straight months of revenue increases.
Sales have been so strong, Ford has said that it will increase third-quarter North American production by 10% to 740,000 vehicles. Second-quarter production is unchanged at 800,000 cars and trucks.
This all bodes very well for Ford, which already reported a strong first quarter.
Record profits in North America pushed Ford's first-quarter revenue 20% higher and led to a 15% surge in net income.
The company's share of the U.S. market advanced, as well, climbing to 15.9% from 15.2%.
Ford isn't just having success in the United States, either. It's also speeding ahead in Asia.
Making the World "Ford Tough"
The company is making major investments in the region, including seven new plants in China and two in India.
Ford scored $6 million in profit in China during the first quarter, up from a $95-million loss a year ago. Wholesale revenue rose 54% in the first three months of the year to 186,596, pushing the company's share of the Chinese market to 3.5%.
European sales are improving slightly, as well, though the economy there continues to limp.
And yet, with as much success as the company has had, shares are still relatively cheap.
Granted, Ford shares have shot up 160% in the past five years, and the stock is trading near 52-week highs. But the company still maintains a P/E of just 10.5. That's kept the dividend yield at a respectable 2.58%.
Bottom line: Ford is one of America's oldest and most reliable companies. It's making huge strides in a domestic market that's showing shades of its pre-financial crisis pinnacle, and gaining traction in Asia. And while its sales and earnings have been strong, its share price doesn't quite reflect the improved outlook.
So if you're looking to hitch your wagon to a car company, Ford is as good as it gets.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.