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Ford (NYSE:F) is leading the U.S. automaker comeback. Recently, I penned an article stating my case for being bullish on Ford - citing five major reasons; Ford had a great August, it just had its credit upgraded, its dividends are likely to increase, it's a technical buy, and it's a great turnaround story. I followed up on that article with another piece, claiming potential investors should not be turned off by Ford's recent 13 day production halt.

Ford has been a great investment vehicle since 2008, when it hit its lows in the midst of the financial crisis. Since its low in 2008, Ford is up over 600%. In the short term, it's also provided 72.7% returns for those that have invested in the company over the past 12 months and 13.1% returns in the last three months.

(click to enlarge)

No doubt, Ford is in the midst of a comeback.

So, how could Ford "shift gears" and continue to drive upward, for benefit of the company and shareholders alike? Dethroning the Toyota Camry as the U.S.'s #1 sedan could be a major headline for Ford - and it's looking like less and less of a longshot for 2014 than it's been for years past.

It was reported today by both Seeking Alpha and Bloomberg:

Camry's U.S. sales lead over Honda Motor Co. (7267)'s Accord, Nissan Motor Co.'s Altima and Ford Motor Co. (F)'s Fusion appears sufficient to ensure a 12th consecutive year as No. 1. In 2014, though, the era of Camry dominance could run out. Its margin has narrowed as Ford opened another Fusion assembly line, General Motors Co. (GM) reworked the Malibu and Hyundai Motor Co. prepares an all-new Sonata.

How far out has the dominance been for the Camry, that's led U.S. sedans since the early 2000's?

Here's how the top 10 sellers for the year 2012 came in:

(data sourced from goodcarbadcar.net)

RankBest-Selling Car20122011% Change
#1Toyota Camry404,886308,510+ 31.2%
#2Honda Accord331,872235,625+ 40.8%
#3Honda Civic317,909221,235+ 43.7%
#4Nissan Altima302,934268,981+ 12.6%
#5Toyota Corolla/Matrix290,947240,259+ 21.1%
#6Ford Focus245,922175,717+ 40.0%
#7Ford Fusion241,263248,067- 2.7%
#8Chevrolet Cruze237,758231,732+ 2.6%
#9Toyota Prius236,659136,463+ 73.4%
Prius Liftback147,507128,064+ 15.2%
Prius V40,6698399+ 384%
Prius C35,733----------
Prius Plug-In12,750----------
#10Hyundai Sonata230,605225,961+ 2.1%

As you can see from that list, Ford is in the minority of vehicles in 2012 that had a regression in sales, and still is a contender. Combining the sales of the Focus and the Fusion, they far outsell the Camry - a sign that Ford, as a brand, can compete here.

As you can see, so far through 2013, Fusion is on pace to beat its 2012 numbers by a significant amount.

RankCarJuly
2013
YTD
% ChangeJuly
2013
% Change
#1Toyota Camry242,406- 0.6%34,780+ 16.3%
#2Honda Accord218,367+ 18.8%31,507+ 10.0%
#3Nissan Altima197,321+ 7.4%29,534+ 11.0%
#4Honda Civic191,120+ 1.9%32,416+ 29.6%
#5Toyota Corolla/Matrix183,435+ 4.6%24,463+ 3.5%
#6Ford Fusion181,668+ 13.4%20,522- 12.0%

The industry posted year-to-date gains of 8.4% through the end of July 2013, car sales were up between 5% and 6%, "depending on what you consider a passenger car and what you'd label a crossover", reported GoodCarBadCar.net.

In the month of July, specifically, sales of new vehicles in America rose 13.9% - the 151 cars ranked below produced not dissimilar gains of 12.4%. What this means is that as auto sales in the U.S. continue to rise, Ford is rising and growing in popularity alongside of it. The more U.S. sales, the more market share Ford is capturing. Based on those metrics, it really does seem that the U.S. automakers - and namely Ford - are back.

In addition, Ford seems to think that the only thing that held them back this past year was the lack of inventory:

"We could have sold more if we had more," Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of the Americas, told reporters last month. "We expect the sales momentum to stay here in the U.S. and around the world."

The extra production helps Ford close the gap with Toyota's capacity to make Camrys.

Toyota's Lentz said Honda's Accord continues to be the primary challenger for Camry, with at least 25 percent of customers saying they had also considered buying the Honda sedan. The percentage of Camry customers who also shop the Fusion is still in "single digits," he said.

In addition, I've previously argued that Ford is a good investment at this point due to the upswing that's likely to occur with its dividends. Alongside the company's credit being upgraded, dividends are another financial metric that will run commensurate with how the company has a whole is doing. Buying into Ford now catches the dividends on an upswing, as Ford has consistently raised or lowered their offering in conjunction with how the business is performing. Ford is likely to be paying well above $0.10 dividends a year or two from now.

The main risk with Ford, and all automakers, lies in overseas sales and the state of the economy overseas. Risk lies in the fact that the entire European auto market (sans Britain) is largely tied to the European economy, which is like trying to balance an elephant on the head of a pin.

As I pointed out in my last article:

If the European economy continues to deteriorate, it's likely the auto industry will as well - leading subsequent shutdowns to not be as "temporary".

However, in the midst of data showing the auto market overseas has likely bottomed out, and the hope of the European economy not being able to get much worse, I'm reaffirming my bullish sentiment on Ford.

Should the economy not deteriorate, we're likely to see a barn burner of a U.S. sedan competition in 2014. If you're betting on Ford here, you're looking for the company to achieve the "next level" of success in their comeback. Giving Camry a serious run for its money would constitute a major catalyst for both the company and its stock.

Should they find success and go number one with the Fusion in 2014, there's no doubt in my mind that Ford is going to be pressing to all-time highs for shareholders. I'm reaffirming bullish on Ford.

Best of luck to all investors.

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 (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Source: This Trend For Ford Could Telegraph New Highs In 2014