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Ford Motor Company (F): The Automaker’s Pickups Drive Big Profits

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Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) posted a first-quarter profit of $1.6 billion on Wednesday, a good result that was better than Wall Street expected. That profit was driven by very strong earnings in the company’s North American division. Ford North America is hitting on all cylinders right now, as recent models like the Fusion and Escape are doing very well with buyers.

But as always with Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), its F-Series pickups are a big part of the story.

Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F)Ford’s cars are better than ever, but its pickups might still be its most important products
In the U.S., Ford sells more of its F-Series pickups — the popular F-150 and its heavier-duty siblings — than any other vehicle. In fact, it’s the best-selling vehicle in America and has been for decades.

Lots of people will tell you that Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) builds a good truck. And while its No. 1 sales ranking occasionally benefits from rival General Motors Company (NYSE:GM)‘ insistence on splitting its full-sized pickup sales between the Chevrolet and GMC brands, there’s no doubt that it’s an exceptionally popular and successful product.

What is somewhat less well known is that it’s a very profitable product as well. Some of that profit comes from sheer numbers: Ford sold 168,843 F-Series pickups in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2013, a 17.4% increase over the first quarter of last year. That’s almost as many sales as all of Ford’s popular SUVs managed — when added together.

But it’s also true that pickups in general have very good profit margins. Ford’s exact profit per pickup sold is a closely guarded secret. But there’s little doubt that it’s good: One leading Wall Street analyst said last year that the F-Series might represent as much as 90% of Ford’s global profit.

Ford made $2.4 billion in North America in the first quarter. (Ford’s total profit was lower because of losses and spending overseas, where Ford is still restructuring and expanding.) Clearly, a lot of those dollars came from pickup sales.

But here’s the interesting thing about Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F): As good as that North America profit number was — and it was Ford’s best in more than a decade — it could have been even higher.

Investing more of Ford’s profits for future growth
Ford’s North American profit was very strong, and its profit margin was also very good at 11%, a big number for a mass-market automaker. But some analysts had expected a slightly higher profit, and a slightly higher margin — in part because of Ford’s strong pickup sales.

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