Ford (F) seems to be having a very good year despite a low stock price. Not only was its F-Series pickup truck the best-selling vehicle in America for the third decade in a row, sales for the F-Series increased by 14% in the last year.
The figures seem to indicate that Ford has a moat around it in the pickup truck business. Its closest competitor in pickups is General Motors (GM), which sold 194,058 of its Silverado pickups in the last year. Yet Ford was able to sell 310,141 F-Series in the same period. Sales figures for Chrysler's Dodge Ram pickup were less than half of those for Ford. Only 138,351 Rams were sold in the last year.
The sales figures for the F-Series were not the only good news for Ford in June. Its Claycomo plant in Kansas City was the top producing U.S. auto factory in 2011. The Kansas City Business Journal reported that Claycomo produced 460,338 vehicles in 2011, the highest output of any U.S. auto factory.
Those figures and the F-Series sales prove that Ford is an extremely productive company that knows how to market. So it would seem to be a growth stock, right? It has high production and cash flow from sales. Pickup truck sales in particular would seem to be a cash cow for Ford.
Why is Ford's Share Price so Low?
Ford seems to own the pickup truck business, but its stock price was still under $10 a share on July 9, 2012. What is going on here? Why is a company that seems to be growing and increasing in productivity having such a hard time translating those gains into share value?
Part of the problem could be that Ford has not been able to translate its pickup truck success into car success. That is not for lack of trying, though Ford is bringing out a new version of its C-MAX hybrid designed to compete with the Toyota (TM) Prius. Ford is even claiming that the C-MAX will deliver better gas mileage than the Prius.
The problem here is not whether Ford can build a more fuel efficient vehicle than the Prius, but whether it can market as well as Toyota. Ford seems to be unable to market to car buyers in the way it can reach truck buyers. It might be able to build a better hybrid, but will the kind of people who buy hybrids even notice?
The market for hybrids and other sedans is completely different from the market for pickup trucks. Sedans are purchased by soccer moms and school teachers. Pickup trucks sell to working class men or men who think of themselves as working class. Ford seems to know how to cater to that market, which is largely white, largely male, and heavily rural.
Now the C-MAX does have a host of features that would conceivably appeal to soccer moms. There's a hands-free lift gate and a price that's $1,300 lower than comparable hybrid models from Toyota and Honda (HMC). That should generate some sales for the C-MAX.
If the C-MAX is successful, it could boost Ford stock value because it would show that the company can successfully market something besides pickup trucks. It would also demonstrate that it can sell to the all-important urban and suburban middle class market that seems to prefer Japanese cars.
The C-MAX is not Ford's only effort to try and win back the middle-class family market. It is heavily marketing the new Escape, which features such mom-friendly features as a foot-activated lift gate. Ford's marketing blitz for Escape included a reality show on the NBC TV network and ads on major sporting events, such as the NBA Finals.
The Escape features easy driving and good gas mileage, much like C-MAX. The Escape also appeals well to persons that have never owned a Ford before. Fortune reported that 70% of the people who went to a website for the car were non-Ford owners. The idea behind Escape and C-MAX is to create vehicles that appeal to urban and suburban dwellers who traditionally buy American cars.
Ford seems to have succeeded in creating such vehicles, and its marketing seems to be improving. That means it might actually succeed in selling cars to somebody outside the Midwest and something besides pickup trucks. The increased cash flow from Escape and Fusion sales could boost Ford's earnings per share and share value.
Even modest success for the C-MAX and the redesigned Escape would boost Ford cash flow and open up new opportunities for it. If it could sell well in urban America, it should also appeal to urban India and urban China. Those are markets that GM and Tata (TTM) have been successful in but Ford has not.
Ford has another car that should have strong appeal to the middle class if it can market it right, the Fusion, which is well-placed to compete with the best-selling sedan, the Toyota Camry. The problem is that Ford needs to raise awareness of the Fusion, and it's trying do that with an ad campaign utilizing American Idol and radio sensation Ryan Seacrest. In addition to star power, Ford is hoping on a revamped design for the Fusion and a quirky ad campaign called Random Acts of Fusion.
Such an advertising campaign is something of a risk, but it is what Ford needs to be doing at this point. The company has a really good lineup of vehicles, excellent technology, and manufacturing capability. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be able to convince the American public that it can build a really good car.
Success for the Fusion would definitely boost Ford by giving it more sales in the small car and sedan market. It would mean that Ford can compete with such bestsellers as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, which both have strong appeal to American car buyers.
If Ford is able to duplicate its success in pickup trucks in sedans, it could see a lot of growth. This stock seems undervalued, given the company's sales figures and its production capabilities. Ford stock looks like a good buy at this time because it has a lot of room for growth.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.