Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Ford Surges Out of '09, Chrysler Still Down

The first December auto sales numbers are out and Ford closed out '09 with a bang.  Adjusting the number of sales days last December to match those in December '08, Ford boosted sales 23.3%.  That's 15% better than the street estimate of 8.3%.  It caps a sensational '09 where Ford surged while competitors struggled mightily.  Consider the following:

  • Ford gained market share for the entire year for the first time since 1995
  • Ford has increased retail market share 14 of the last 15 months
  • Ford brand is expected to pass Chevy to become the #2 brand in the U.S.

While much of the credit for this turnaround will deservedly go to new CEO Alan Mulally, kudos are also in line to Ford designers for a line-up that is spot-on, Ford marketing chief Jim Farley for ad campaigns that work, and the Ford executive team which is moving in lock-step with Mulally's plan for "One Ford".

On the other end of the spectrum, Chrysler closed out '09 on a down note with sales dropping 10.5%. This is a little better than Wall Street was expecting.  For Chrysler, 2009 was a disaster and it's easy to see why CEO Sergio Marchionne and his leadership team are ready to move on to 2010.  Fact is, they bought a company out of bankruptcy that many believe should have been liquidated.  It's product line-up is old, skews toward trucks, and the brand image is tarnished at best.

It will take time for Marchionne's turnaround to take hold, so much of 2010 will be a wash as well.  That said, Chrysler has a plan that makes sense on paper.  If the company can deliver on what it promises, we should start to see encouraging signs from Chrysler late this year. 

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