Ford Missing Market-Share Goal Adds Pressure to Cut Prices

Ford Motor Co. (F), after increasing its share of the U.S. light-vehicle market for the last two years, is falling short of its retail goal this year, which may put pressure on the automaker to offer larger discounts.

Ford in the first quarter had 13.6 percent of the U.S. retail auto market, which excludes sales to fleet buyers, according to researcher Edmunds.com. That trailed the 14.1 percent target Ford’s board set for executives to match or exceed this year, according to the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker’s government filings.

Ford’s share slipped as General Motors Co. (GM) increased sales incentives 11 percent in the first three months of the year, according to Autodata Corp. of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. Ford, which reduced discounts by 9.1 percent in the first quarter, saw its total U.S. market share fall to 16.2 percent from 16.8 percent a year earlier, Autodata said.

“We believe Ford’s management could be forced to become more aggressive with incentives to avoid additional market share loss,” Joseph Amaturo, an analyst with the Buckingham Research Group who rates Ford “neutral,” said in an April 12 research note. “We are increasingly concerned about net-price erosion.”

Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, who has emphasized profits over market share, said Ford will maintain pricing discipline.

“The most important thing about our plan is profitable growth, so that leads us to tremendous discipline on everything about the business,” Mulally told reporters April 13 in Detroit. “The number one thing is to match the production capacity to the real demand.”

Americas Share

Ford, which earned $6.56 billion last year, failed to achieve its market share targets globally and in the Americas, according to its proxy statement filed this month. Ford achieved 44 percent of its corporate market-share goal and 58 percent of its target for the Americas, the proxy said.

Ford has said its market share in Europe fell to 7.6 percent last year from 8.9 percent in 2009 as it resisted matching competitors’ discounts. The automaker said its retail market share in the U.S. last year was 14.1 percent, trailing the board’s 14.2 percent target.

Mulally said Ford will continue to avoid the heavy, profit- eroding discounts that U.S. automakers used in the past to keep factories running.

“We will always be very disciplined about our production and our pricing and have the pricing reflect the real demand and inherent value of the product,” he said.

Retail Target

Ford hasn’t met its retail market-share target in any month since October, when it sold 14.5 percent of the cars and trucks purchased by individual consumers, according to automotive researcher R.L. Polk & Co. of Southfield, Michigan. Ford’s retail share fell to 13.2 percent in February, the most recent month Polk has analyzed.

In March, Ford raised incentives and surpassed GM in monthly U.S. sales for the second time in the last 13 years, said Michelle Krebs, a West Bloomfield, Michigan-based analyst for Edmunds.

“GM’s retail share was higher than Ford’s in March, despite Ford beating GM in total,” Krebs said. “Not good if Ford resorts to incentives as well as high fleet percentages again -- old habits.”

Ford should continue to put a priority on profits over market share, said Brian Johnson, a Chicago-based analyst for Barclays Capital.

Incentives ‘Crutch’

“Anyone would like to improve market share; the question is how do you go about doing that without resting on the easy crutch of incentives,” said Johnson, who rates the shares “overweight/neutral.” “They were well ahead of plan on profit, cash flow, pricing and cost reduction, even if market share was a bit low.”

Ford’s total U.S. market share rose to 16.7 percent last year from 14.4 percent in 2008, according to Autodata, as new models such as the Fusion sedan and Fiesta subcompact attracted buyers. Ford’s share gains in 2009 and 2010 represented the first consecutive annual improvements since 1992 to 1993, the company said.

Ford also gained consideration from car buyers when it avoided the bankruptcies and government bailouts that beset the predecessors of GM and Chrysler Group LLC in 2009.

Ford’s board used market-share targets for 8.33 percent of its formula for determining cash bonus and performance stock grants for top executives. The board’s compensation committee said U.S. retail share is “the best measurement” of consumer acceptance.

Compensation Formula

Global profits before taxes accounted for 30 percent and automotive operating cash flow accounted for an 30 percent, according to the proxy. Business unit profit before taxes accounted for 15 percent of the formula, while cost performance and quality each represented 8.33 percent.

Ford executives’ performance exceeded every target except market share, according to the filing.

Compensation for Ford’s five top-paid executives rose 64 percent to $75.9 million last year from $46.4 million in 2009, according to the proxy. That included incentive bonus awards paid at 180 percent of the target on the corporate level and 181 percent for the Americas region.

The board’s compensation committee wrote that it “considered our outstanding 2010 performance-to-metrics and our execution of our One Ford Plan as the primary reasons for paying out the award to the full extent that they were earned.”

Ford shares, which climbed 68 percent in 2010, fell 10 cents to $14.71 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have dropped 12 percent this year.

Mulally Pay

Mulally’s 2010 compensation rose 48 percent to $26.5 million, including salary, bonus, stock, option awards and other pay. Ford last month also gave Mulally $56.5 million in stock for the turnaround since he joined the automaker from Boeing Co. in 2006. He halted three years of losses and led Ford to $9.28 billion in net income in the last two years.

“I am very pleased that we continue to align the compensation with the business performance of Ford,” Mulally said April 13 when asked about criticism of his pay package by the United Auto Workers union. “This is the way it should be.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Keith Naughton in Southfield, Michigan, at knaughton3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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