Ford U.S. sales down 6.8% in 2021 amid chip shortage, but hit major milestones in Q4

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

In line with an industry that saw massive fallout from a global semiconductor shortage, Ford Motor Co.'s U.S. sales fell in 2021 — but the latter part of the year brought some major milestones for the Dearborn automaker, which beat out foreign and domestic rivals alike to become the best-selling automaker in the fourth quarter.

For the year, Ford recorded roughly 1.9 million sales in the U.S., according to numbers released Wednesday, down from more than 2 million in 2020 and more than 2.4 million in 2019. Sales also were down by 17.1% in December. But the fourth quarter was a strong one for the automaker, which won the top sales spot in the U.S. and clinched its position as the No. 2 seller of electric vehicles in 2021, behind market leader Tesla Inc.

Sales in the U.S. were expected to be up slightly in 2021 to about 15 million vehicles. But while that's better than 2020, when sales dropped because of the pandemic, it's still well below 2019's 17 million sales. 

Still, Ford managed to boost production and sales volume in the fourth quarter after being hit hard by the chip shortage earlier in the year. It posted 508,451 sales in Q4, up 26.8% from the third quarter. 

Ford's F-Series pickups had another strong sales year in 2021.

The company's F-Series franchise also achieved its 45th straight year as the country's best-selling truck, with sales of 726,004 down 7.8% year-over-year. Segment competitor Ram finished in second place with 569,388 pickups sold, while Chevrolet finished with 529,765 Silverado truck sales. General Motors Co.'s other truck maker, GMC, sold 248,924 Sierra pickups.

"Ford finished the year strong, as the only U.S. automaker hitting the half million sales mark in the fourth quarter, making Ford America’s best-selling automaker," Andrew Frick, Ford's vice president of sales for the U.S. and Canada, said in a statement. 

"On the strong success of Mustang Mach-E, Ford jumped into second place in U.S. electric vehicle sales behind just Tesla," he added. "Last year was a foundational year for Ford in the electrified vehicle segment and this year we continue to expand, adding the F-150 Lightning and E-Transit to our electric vehicle lineup. Looking to the new year, Ford had just over 70,000 new vehicle orders in December, which will provide continued momentum into 2022.”

Meanwhile, GM saw sales slide 13% in 2021 to roughly 2.2 million vehicles. For the first time in 90 years, the Detroit automaker came in No. 2 in annual U.S. sales, ceding its No. 1 spot to Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. 

GM's sales plummeted 43% year-over-year in the fourth quarter, to 440,745 vehicles. Stellantis NV also saw sales drop; Q4 sales were down 18%, to 412,000 units, and the automaker finished 2021 with sales down 2% to nearly 1.8 million.

For foreign automakers, 2021's results were mixed. Honda Motor Co. sold nearly 1.5 million vehicles in the U.S., up 9%. Hyundai Motor Co. sold more than 738,000 vehicles, up 19%. Subaru Corp.’s sales dipped 4.6% to almost 584,000. Tesla doesn't break out sales by geography, but delivered 936,000 vehicles globally last year, an increase of 87%.

Hot new products

Ford attributed much of its strength in the fourth quarter to demand for a buzzed-about new lineup of vehicles including the Bronco SUV, Maverick pickup truck and all-electric Mustang Mach-E.

Among Ford's hottest new products is Maverick, a compact pickup truck that comes standard with a hybrid powertrain. Ford sold 6,030 Maverick trucks in December, 2,159 of which were hybrids, and 13,258 total in 2021 after launching in the fall. 

Another bright spot for the automaker was SUVs, with sales in the segment up 10.4% last year. The new Ford Bronco, one of the most highly-anticipated launches of 2021, recorded just over 35,000 sales to end the year. Bronco's smaller sibling, the Bronco Sport, which launched in late 2020, notched 108,169 sales in 2021.

The Bronco, which Ford launched in 2021, is among the new vehicles that helped propel sales.

For the full year, Mustang sales were down 14.2%. Sales across Ford's luxury Lincoln brand were down 17.5%.

“Ford had a really rocky period in the middle of the year, especially concerning the lack of chips for its F-150. But they started to come out of that in late summer, and their inventory started improving," said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Cox Automotive. "And there were some really bright spots for Ford this year. The Bronco took off. The Maverick really captured the fancy of people.”

Meanwhile, Ford reported taking 70,000 new vehicle orders from retail customers in December, up 58,000 vehicles from a year ago. Thirty-three percent of its retail sales were from fulfilling customer orders. Since the onset of the chip shortage, the automaker — as well as some of its competitors — has leaned into a model in which customers order and configure their vehicle before it's built rather than shopping off the lot.

The company expressed optimism about its position to start 2022, with 247,000 vehicles in stock, which it claimed was the best position industrywide. 

No. 2 EV seller

2021 brought a major milestone for Ford as the automaker aims to double its EV capacity to 600,000 vehicles per year within two years and cement the No. 2 position in the U.S. market behind Tesla. Ford achieved that goal in 2021, posting its best-ever sales numbers for fully electric vehicles with 27,140 Mustang Mach-E sales.

A pair of 2021 Ford Mustang Mach E are displayed for sale at a Ford dealer on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in Wexford, Pa.

The result was due in part to GM recalling all Bolt EVs and EUVs — more than 141,000 made since model year 2017 — and pausing sales for the only all-electric vehicle it had on the market for much of 2021.

Still, Ford and experts alike are expecting the automaker to continue as a major contender in the EV space this year as it prepares to launch the all-electric F-150 Lightning, a battery-electric version of America's best-selling truck. The pickup is slated to go on sale this spring, and Ford's stock was up this week on news that the automaker plans to nearly double production capacity for the truck due to high demand.

In December, the automaker hit a new electrified vehicle record with 12,284 sales, up 121% year-over year.

Ford shares on Wednesday traded at their highest level since 2001 after opening at $24.06 per share before closing at $23.66. Ford had the top performing auto stock of 2021, gaining 136%.

Investment research firm CFRA Research raised its 12-month price target on Ford shares by $8 to $32 and reiterated its buy opinion following the automaker's sales report.

"With additional market share gains coming from the F-150 Lightning, Bronco, and other vehicles, we remain bullish on Ford, expecting a combination of earnings growth and multiple expansion to propel shares higher as EV sales grow and the stock is valued less like a single-digit P/E (price-earnings ratio) multiple legacy automaker," CFRA vice president Garrett Nelson wrote in a note. 

"Furthermore," he added, "we have a high degree of confidence in CEO Jim Farley and view (Ford's) global operations as having considerable low hanging fruit in terms of additional cost and productivity improvement."

Twitter: @JGrzelewski