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Truck sales drive record results at Ford; shares surge

Net income more than doubled at Ford Motor, which also reported its highest-ever quarterly operating margins on Thursday, thanks to robust pricing of its F-150 pickup trucks in North America and improved profit in Europe.

Ford's net income of $2.45 billion, or 61 cents per diluted share, in the first quarter through March 31, was up 113 percent from $1.3 billion, or 29 cents per diluted share, a year ago.

Excluding one-time items, Ford's earnings per share of 68 cents easily beat Wall Street expectations of 48 cents a share.

Ford CEO Mark Fields said the company would continue to deliver great results, noting that Ford reaffirmed guidance that puts the automaker on track to perform as well as, or better than, it did last year.

"Hopefully, at some point, the market will recognize us for that, but we're going to keep focusing on the fundamentals of the business," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Demand for SUVs and trucks offset lower sales in South America. U.S. sales of the Ford Explorer SUV rose 39 percent in the first quarter.

Ford is seeing a shift to SUVs not only in the United States, but around the world, according to Fields. He said Ford is well-positioned to take advantage of the trend.

He noted, however, that Ford would invest $4.5 billion in electrified vehicles over the next four years with the goal of electrifying 40 percent of its autos by the end of the decade.

The company also reported company records for global and North American operating margins.

Fields said Ford's average transaction price for its vehicles was more than double the industry's. He attributed the feat to "understanding the customer, what they value."

The company's shares were up nearly 2 percent at $13.90 in premarket trading and were the most actively traded on the New York Stock Exchange. (Get the latest quote here.)

In North America, Ford had a record operating margin of 12.9 percent. This compares with rival General Motors' first-quarter operating profit margin of 8.7 percent, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles 's 7.2 percent in North America.

Ford beat GM in both revenue and profit in the quarter, mainly because of stronger results in North America and Europe. Ford's quarterly revenue of $37.7 billion edged past GM's $37.3 billion. GM last week reported a first-quarter net income of $2 billion, while Ford's net income was $2.5 billion.

Ford reported $3.08 billion in pretax profit for North America, outpacing GM's $2.3 billion for the quarter. In Europe, Ford earned a pretax quarterly profit of $434 million, while GM broke even.

The company's global operating margin was 9.8 percent, while global pretax profit was a record $3.8 billion in the quarter.

Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks told reporters the company did not change its forecast for a North American profit margin for 2016 of 9.5 percent or better, after reporting a 10.2 percent margin last year.

Ford maintained its forecast for 2016 of a pretax profit that will equal or improve upon a record $10.8 billion last year.

Shanks said the second half of the year is not expected to generate as much profit due largely to downtime for production plants in North America for summer and end-of-year shutdowns.

He said the company would "tweak" production downward at some plants during the second half. He did not specify which plants would be affected, but said that cars are not selling as well as trucks and SUVs.

Ford more than doubled profit in the Asia-Pacific region to $220 million, from $105 million a year ago. But it lost money outside of its China joint ventures.

The company's equity income from its joint ventures in China was $443 million, up from $360 million, for a quarterly operating profit margin of 16.4 percent.

— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher, Reuters, and The Associated Press contributed to this story.