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Ford struggling to win back sales, share

  Business  -   POSTED: 2007/10/03 10:24

Ford Motor's biggest rival, General Motors, has a tentative contract deal with the United Automobile Workers union and relatively stable sales. Ford has neither.

Sales at Ford fell 18.2 percent in September, closing out its 2007 model year on a disappointing note, and analysts say the carmaker's immediate future does not look much brighter. Its biggest new product, the Edge, is already on sale, and its most critical redesign, the F-series pickup, is still a year away from arriving at dealerships.

The Edge, a crossover vehicle that executives said would lead Ford through its turnaround, has surpassed expectations, but almost everything else seems to be coming up short. The chief sales analyst at Ford, George Pipas, said September sales fell short of targets in the company's overhaul plan, known as "the way forward."

"We're not where we want to be," Pipas said Tuesday. But he insisted that the shortfall "doesn't throw us off track for the full year."

Ford's sales have been down every month this year, largely because of planned cutbacks in deliveries to rental car companies. But sales at dealerships have fallen off, too, raising questions about whether the carmaker needs to speed up its turnaround.

"Their market share levels are disappointing," said Bruce Clark, an analyst with Moody's Investors Service in New York. "2008 is going to be challenging from an operating standpoint, and their cash burn will not be inconsequential."

September sales of the Ford Taurus sedan, which Ford introduced this summer with high expectations, were 30 percent lower than those of its predecessor, the Five Hundred. And sales of Ford's sport-utility vehicles have fallen so sharply that the Edge outsold them all last month.

Yet the Edge is not winning many new customers for Ford, because nine out of 10 vehicles most commonly traded in for it are other Ford models, said Tom Libby, senior director of industry analysis at the Power Information Network of J.D. Power and Associates.

Ford is preparing to resume contract talks this week with the UAW, which reached a tentative deal with GM last week after a two-day nationwide strike. The deal, which workers are voting on through Oct. 10, is expected to make GM significantly more competitive with foreign manufacturers like Toyota and Honda.

But as details of the GM deal continue to emerge, analysts are increasingly concerned that a similar deal may not go far enough to help Ford and, to a lesser extent, Chrysler.

GM is in a much healthier position than Ford, Libby said, as September sales illustrated. GM's sales rose 4.5 percent, and its market share jumped to 25.3 percent, from 24.4 percent a year ago, according to the Autodata Corp., an industry statistics firm. Ford's market share fell to 13.3 percent, from 16.5 percent.


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