Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. automaker, reported first-quarter profit Wednesday that exceeded estimates as the Fusion sedan bolstered record results for its North American operations.
Ford reported net income of $1.61 billion. Excluding one-time items, the per-share profit was 41 cents, exceeding the 37-cent average estimate of 17 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. The result compared with net income of $1.4 billion, or 35 cents a share, a year earlier.
The new Fusion, which has drawn comparisons to Aston Martin car styling, is fulfilling Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally’s aim to fill out Ford’s lineup with more competitive cars to complement its pickups and sport utility vehicles. The more complete showrooms drove a record $2.4 billion quarterly profit in North America, which countered slumping demand in Europe and losses in South America.
“Fusion is the star behind these results,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst for auto researcher Edmunds.com. “Ford is gaining strength from new models. They’re not only selling at higher volumes, they’re also getting higher prices.”
Ford introduced the mid-size Fusion late last year, reinforcing a car lineup that includes the Focus compact, the top-selling global nameplate, according to researcher R.L. Polk & Co. First-quarter revenue totaled $33.9 billion, from $30.5 billion a year earlier. Sales exceeded the $33.6 billion average estimate of 11 analysts.
The company forecast it would build 800,000 vehicles in North America and 390,000 in Europe during the current quarter. That’s up 63,000 in North America and 21,000 in Europe from a year earlier. Automakers record revenue when vehicles are assembled and shipped to dealers.
“We expect a mostly neutral reception to [first quarter] results themselves and a slightly positive reception to the [second quarter] production guidance,” said Ryan Brinkman, an analyst with JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Renewed demand for Ford’s pickups paced the biggest U.S. sales gain among top automakers in the quarter. The F-Series line has led the U.S. truck segment for 36 consecutive years.
The operating profit in North America topped Ford’s previous record of $2.3 billion in 2012’s third quarter. The region’s operating margin was 11 percent, ahead of the company’s full-year forecast of 10 percent in an industry where 5 percent is considered respectable.
As Ford revamps in Europe, it’s also trying to crack the luxury market, one of the company’s biggest headaches. Sales for its Lincoln line plunged in January to the brand’s worst monthly showing in almost 32 years as production of the MKZ sedan was slowed for quality checks. Ford said supply would be back to normal this month.