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Ford’s first-quarter Europe sales rise 8.4 percent

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. on Thursday said its sales in Europe grew 8.4 percent in the first quarter of 2016, outpacing the industry, thanks to strong demand for SUVs and performance cars.

The Dearborn automaker sold 401,200 vehicles through the first three months of the year in all 50 of the European markets it operates in. Its market share during that time period rose 0.3 percent as it remained the No. 2 best-selling brand.

Industry wide, sales volumes rose 5.4 percent in the first quarter.

Ford’s March sales rose 4.3 percent.

“There’s a growing sense of excitement about Ford in Europe, from the new Mustang and Focus RS, to our growing SUV lineup, to our best-selling commercial vehicles,” Roelant de Waard, vice president, Marketing, Sales and Service, Ford of Europe, said in a statement. “We’re reaching more customers, and importantly, we’re winning over even more retail and business fleet customers who are increasingly choosing highly-equipped Ford vehicles.”

De Waard said in a conference call with media that the industry has operated at a 17 million selling pace so far this year, and he expects that will continue. In 2015, de Waard said the industry sold about 16 million vehicles in Europe; Ford’s sales in its 20 traditional European markets were up 11 percent to 1.3 million.

Much like in the U.S., sales in Europe are driven by a strong demand for SUVs. Ford expects its SUV sales to grow by about 30 percent in 2016 compared with last year, and to break the 200,000 sales mark for the first time in Europe.

Sales of Ford’s mid-size Kuga rose 23 percent in the first quarter to 30,700 for its best first quarter ever. Compact EcoSport sales were up 50 percent to 14,600. Ford will introduce a new Kuga and Edge in the second half of the year.

“The SUV segment has grown, and we expect that to continue,” de Waard said.

Performance cars are also a large part of Ford’s sales. As the automaker expands its performance lineup with cars like the Focus RS and Fiesta ST200, it has forecast it will sell more than 40,000 performance cars this year, a 50 percent increase over 2015.

Mustang, which Ford began selling in Europe in the third quarter of 2015, became the best-selling sports car in Germany in March, and Ford has taken more than 16,000 orders since the pony car’s launch.

Ford was the No. 1 commercial vehicle seller in Europe in the first quarter as sales rose 14.4 percent to 80,900 vehicles, led by Transit vans and the Ranger mid-size pickup.

De Waard said 60 percent of sales of all of Ford’s passenger cars in the first quarter were of the higher, more profitable models. It will expand its upscale Vignale line with S-MAX, Edge and Kuga Vignale this year.

The automaker turned a profit in Europe last year for the first time since 2011, and is currently in the midst of job cutbacks to improve profitability even more.

mmartinez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2401

Twitter.com/MikeMartinez_DN