Ford Seems Resigned to Losing No. 1 Spot

Ford Motor Co. seems surprisingly resigned, almost philosophical, about the idea that the Ford F-150 pickup is about to lose the No. 1 sales crown it’s worn for 26 years, as the best-selling vehicle, car or truck, in the United States.

“The customer will decide,” was the remarkably calm response from Jim Farley, group vice president, marketing and communications for Ford, when he was asked on June 3 whether the Toyota Camry could knock the F-150 off its No. 1 perch.

“I’m sure there’s a possibility, with these segment shifts. I really can’t predict those sort of things, that’s up to the customer,” he said.

I expected him to say, “Over my dead body,” or words to that effect.

Farley said repeatedly in a conference call with auto analysts and reporters that May was a “watershed” month. It certainly was, but especially for Ford.

No fewer that four cars outsold the F-150 in May: two Hondas, the Civic and the Accord; and two Toyotas, the Corolla and the Camry. The Ford Focus did, too, not counting a higher level of fleet sales for the F-150.

No passenger car, foreign or domestic, has outsold the F-150 or its ancestors for a full year since 1981. In all those years, there were only a couple of single months in which the Chevy Silverado or the Ford Taurus outsold the F-Series pickup, and then only with the help of generous incentives.

On May 19, I wrote a story pointing out that if the F-150 keeps falling sharply the way it has, and the Toyota Camry keeps slowly gaining the way it has, within the next couple of years the Camry would outsell the F-150.

It was a thought-provoking idea, but something I couldn’t imagine Ford quote-unquote “allowing.” By hook or by crook, even if it meant spending a ton of money on a new model, new advertising and new incentives, Ford would defend that No. 1 spot – wouldn’t they?

It turns out, maybe not.

On June 4, I followed up with George Pipas, Ford’s U.S. sales analysis manager. If anything, he was even more matter-of-fact than Farley about the inevitability that the F-150 will lose its No. 1 status.

“That’s not a top-of-mind goal for us. Top-of-mind is getting back to profitability. If you think about it, our historical infatuation with trucks and with SUVs is what got us to this point,” Pipas said.

In fact, Pipas said the market has changed so much, he thinks that a compact car, rather than a midsize car, will eventually be the No. 1 seller. That would be a small car like the Honda Civic or the Ford Focus, rather than a midsize car such as the Camry or Accord.

In the short run, the Camry has the best chance of knocking off the F-150, but small cars are coming up fast.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.