Commentary

Ford Says Polk Says Focus Is No. 1

The Ford Focus -- “Your friend at the pump and your love on the road” -- is also now your No. 1 bestselling car worldwide with 1.02 million units moving off dealers’ lots last year, according to R.L. Polk & Co. figures released yesterday by a self-celebratory company in Detroit. But not everyone agrees. 

“Toyota's Tokyo-based spokesman, Ryo Sakai, said the Japanese carmaker sold 1.16 million Corollas in 2012 and that “Toyota still sees the Corolla as the world's most popular car,” report Reuters’ Garima Goel in Bangalore and Yoko Kubota in Tokyo in a short piece filed early this morning, U.S. time. “The sales figure include Corolla Sedan, which is over 90% of the total volume, and the Corolla Altis, Corolla Axio, Corolla Wagon, Corolla Fielder and Corolla Rumion," Sakai said.

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The Polk figures issued by Ford had pegged Corolla at 872,774 units sold. That’s a substantial difference in counting chickens, and Polk has yet to provide an explanation. Whatever the final tally reveals -– and also some controversy about how Focus sales are compiled in China (see below), Jim Farley, Ford’s EVP for global marketing, sales and service and the head of its Lincoln brand, says it all comes down to its sound marketing plan. 

“Focus and Fiesta represent the culmination of our One Ford global product strategy,” he says in a story by The Detroit Bureau’s Paul A. Eisenstein. The Fiesta (723,130 units sold) finished No. 6 on the list. 

“Ford has been among the leaders in Europe for a long time, and the Focus and the Fiesta have traditionally done well there,” Tom Libby, an analyst at Polk, tells the Los Angeles Times’ Jerry Hirsch. “A resurgence in the U.S. with passenger cars has helped Ford, too.”

Ford’s F-series trucks (785,630), with the bulk of its sales in the U.S., carried most of the load for larger vehicles. 

The one-world strategy “is embossed on wallet-size cards that executives carry,” the Detroit Free Press’ Alisa Priddle informs us. “CEO Alan Mulally has repeated it like a mantra since he joined the company in 2006. Mulally found a composite of regional products and business practices, then spent years changing Ford so a compact car like Focus is built the same way at a plant anywhere in the world in order to save money from economies of scale.”

The other finishers on Polk’s list were China’s Wuling Zhiguang (No. 4; 768,870); Toyota Camry (No. 5; 729,793); VW Golf (No. 7; 699,148); Chevrolet Cruze (No. 8; 661,325); Honda Civic No. 9; 651,159) and Honda CR-V No. 10; 624,982), according to The Detroit Bureau’s report.

Bloomberg’s Businessweek’s Craig Trudell looks at the larger implications, regardless of which brand is actually No. 1: “The World Buys Small.” That’s a trend that Mulally (along with a few billion other people) evidently saw coming.

“Since Alan has been with us, we’ve put a tremendous amount of attention toward balancing our product portfolio,” Erich Merkle, Ford’s U.S. sales analyst, tells Trudell. “We had to better represent what the majority of the world is looking for, and they’re looking for smaller passenger cars.” 

Trudell points out that the Focus’s introduction to China last year boosted sales by 300,000, even though it only entered the world’s largest market in March. He writes: “Looking forward to Ford’s aggressive Chinese expansion plans, said Farley, ‘With additional manufacturing capacity added last year, we now have a tremendous opportunity to further strengthen our global small car sales in 2013, with sales off to a very strong start already.’”

Focus sales in the United Sates rose 40% in 2012, according to Ford, “while in China, Focus registrations -- a proxy for sales that's often used in international markets -- rose 51%,” James O’Toole reports on CNNMoney.com. “China was the best-selling market for the cars, accounting for more than a quarter of Focus sales globally.” 

But, as Motley Fool’s John Rosevear points out, “there's a bit of controversy here. Ford actually sells two different cars called ‘Focus’ in China: The current global model as sold here in the U.S., called ‘New Focus’ and positioned as a premium product, and the last-generation European-model Focus, called ‘Classic Focus’ and sold at more of an entry-level price.”

The question is, will we ever be seeing upgraded “New” Wuling Zhiguangs in the U.S.? This model, for one, seems to be perfect for the currently neglected five-kid-family niche.

1 comment about "Ford Says Polk Says Focus Is No. 1".
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  1. Thom Forbes from T.H. Forbes Co., April 10, 2013 at 2:43 p.m.

    An update this afternoon from Mike Michels, VP of corporate communications at Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.:

    "Toyota sold 1.16 million Corolla vehicles globally in 2012 compared to 1.02 million Focus nameplate registrations recently attributed to R.L. Polk by Ford Motor Company. Corolla sedan alone sold 1.08 million. Corolla registrations attributed to Polk come up short by nearly 300,000 units. This discrepancy is glaring and we have requested clarification.”

    This figure includes the vehicles cited in the second paragraph of the story and does not include Corolla derivatives such as the Auris, Auris Hybrid, Verso, E'z, Matrix, Scion xB and Rukus, which do not share the Corolla name.

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