Could Ford Catch Toyota?


These are fun days at Ford. After staring bankruptcy in the eye and surviving a horrific slump in sales, the auto maker is rolling. Sure, it's not yet back in the black, but it has the big "MO". It's adding production, cutting losses, and is in the sweet spot of new product cadence with models like the Edge and Taurus bringing back buyers.

So after two years in the #3 spot in the U.S., is it possible Ford could catch Toyota to become #2?

Through July, Ford trailed Toyota by roughly 7,000 vehicles sold. Spittin' distance when you consider both companies have sold approximately 940,000. It's close enough to make you think Ford could catch the Japanese auto maker. But I'm not sure that will happen.

The reason: Cash for Clunkers.

The government incentive turned out to be a huge shot in the arm, for all auto makers, especially Ford and Toyota. Toyota sold more new models than any other company. Ford was the only American auto maker to have two models in the top ten. When sales come out tomorrow, Ford will show another monthly increase in sales.

But catching Toyota will be tough after the Clunkers bump. Auto sales the rest of this year are expected to be weak as we see a "payback" for pulling ahead some business during Clunkers. It the run rate the last quarter of the year is 9.5-10 million vehicles, I don't see Ford catching Toyota. Sure, the new Taurus will bring in business this fall, but probably not enough to close the gap.

Still, there is a swagger back in the step of the execs. In Dearborn. And you can't blame them. Momentum is elusive in the auto biz, and it can vanish in the blink of an eye. Just ask the folks with HUMMER. It wasn't long ago they were the envy of others. Now they have a brand gasping for life. So enjoy the ride Mr. Mulally. You're gaining on the boys from Toyota, but you're not quite there.

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