Ford targets production issues amid F-Series truck makeover

Ford Motor Co. wants to maintain record earnings in North America next year as analysts project that a transition to new F-Series pickups might trim production, the automaker’s president for the region said.

Large pickup output at Ford may drop 8.5 percent in 2014, Barclays PLC said in a recent report, citing an estimate from researcher IHS Automotive. The F-Series lineup, which is built at Ford’s assembly plant in Claycomo and another in Michigan, has been the top seller in the U.S. for more than three decades and accounts for the bulk of the company’s North American earnings.

“Sustaining our profitability, our market share growth, keeping our lineup the freshest in the industry, those are all important goals,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said in an interview. “We want to continue to sustain the performance we’ve been having in North America.”

Ford, the second-largest U.S. automaker, competes with bigger rival General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC to keep pickups fresh because the trucks earn higher margins than other vehicles. Large pickups generate $8,000 to $10,000 each in gross profit, Morgan Stanley estimates. The F-Series sales lead over GM and Chrysler pickups has expanded in 2013 even as those competitors introduced redesigned models in the past year.

Ford hasn’t confirmed that new F-Series pickups are coming next year and will have more to say about its plans for 2014 “over the next couple months,” Hinrichs said.

The company’s Claycomo assembly plant will prepare for building new trucks in March and April and shift to producing them in November next year, said Brian Johnson, a Chicago-based analyst at Barclays. Its Dearborn, Mich., truck factory will shut down completely in June, he said, citing IHS Automotive’s analysis.

The automaker’s pretax profit in North America may decline to $8.6 billion next year, with a margin of 9.8 percent, from $9 billion and 10.1 percent this year, Johnson said. He rates Ford shares the equivalent of hold and estimates that they may rise to $20 in the next year. Ford stock on Thursday fell 23 cents to $17.11

“North America may need to take a step back in 2014 as the company transitions its large pickup truck product,” Johnson said in the report. “We suspect that the impact of Ford’s large pickup transition is underestimated.”

Ford earned $7.08 billion in North America through the year’s first nine months, up from $6.47 billion a year earlier. The automaker has forecast that annual profit in the region will be higher than last year’s record $8.34 billion, with a margin of about 10 percent.