Detroit Money City: GM Leads the Pack as Ford Profit Sinks

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

What a difference a few (hundred thousand) recalls make. In a sales market best described as stagnant, a widespread vehicle glitch can dog an automaker’s balance sheet. That seems to be the case at Ford Motor Company, which saw its first-quarter profit fall 35 percent on a combination of factors — not the least of which was a pair of recalls of engine fires and faulty door latches.

Elsewhere in the domestic market, General Motors rode to the financial finish line with a record post-bankruptcy net income while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles climbed further into the black.

Timing wasn’t on Ford’s side. A March call-back of 360,000 vehicles for an engine fire risk in North America joined an ongoing recall of numerous models for a glitch that causes doors to fly open. The automaker added another 210,000 vehicles to the door recall last month, joining 2.4 million vehicles already under recall.

Quality woes led to $467 million being stripped from Ford’s balance sheet through warranty costs last quarter, leaving the automaker with a $1.7 billion profit. Global revenue rose by 4 percent. Lower sales didn’t help the economic picture, though big-buck truck sales in North America offset losses in other regions. Ford has warned investors of a rocky year.

The gray skies over Dearborn don’t extend as far as the Renaissance Center. GM enjoyed a record first quarter with $2.6 billion in profit — a 33-percent increase. The automaker’s good fortune lies in the wallets of its Chinese and North American consumers, as well as in its popular truck and SUV lineup.

CEO Mary Barra ramped up the General’s diet last year in a bid for higher profits. In a break from the past, the automaker has toned down low-profit fleet sales in favor of retail transactions. Global Q1 revenue rose 10.6 percent.

At Fiat Chrysler, celebration sweaters are in order. The company recorded 34-percent profit growth compared to the previous first-quarter results, posting a net income of $698.2 million. Much of the gain comes from improved European sales — the continent’s profits grew 85 percent — and growth in Maserati sales spurred by the new Levante SUV. Once again, a utility vehicle comes to an automaker’s aid.

In the U.S., FCA’s first-quarter sales dropped 7.3 percent, though the coming two years will bring a host of new product introductions — including the next-generation Wrangler and Ram 1500. The automaker has its fingers crossed in the hopes that pricey plant and product investments will pay big dividends in North America, washing the bad taste of the failed Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart out of Auburn Hills.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • EBFlex EBFlex on Apr 29, 2017

    And this is where Big Al's business strategy of "profits now, recalls later" is coming to bite Ford. Lowering quality as a way to boost profits will only hurt in the long run.

  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Apr 29, 2017

    Now we know what the Great Sergio meant about forgetting a merger and attending to the business. It's about time he worked to increase the value of the company to make it attractive to merger/buyer candidates. He should have thought of that earlier. It's a little funny that profits went up after dropping the Dart and Chrysler 200. FCA must have been putting all of its margin on the hood - and then some - to sell those models. Once the stream of those models stopped arriving at dealers' lots, they could order more Jeeps and SUVs.

  • Varezhka The biggest underlying issue of Mitsubishi Motors was that for most of its history the commercial vehicles division was where all the profit was being made, subsidizing the passenger vehicle division losses. Just like Isuzu.And because it was a runt of a giant conglomerate who mainly operated B2G and B2B, it never got the attention it needed to really succeed. So when Daimler came in early 2000s and took away the money making Mitsubishi-Fuso commercial division, it was screwed.Right now it's living off of its legacy user base in SE Asia, while its new parent Nissan is sucking away at its remaining engineering expertise in EV and kei cars. I'd love to see the upcoming US market Delica, so crossing fingers they will last that long.
  • ToolGuy A deep-dive of the TTAC Podcast Archives gleans some valuable insight here.
  • Tassos I heard the same clueless, bigoted BULLSHEET about the Chinese brands, 40 years ago about the Japanese Brands, and more recently about the Koreans.If the Japanese and the Koreans have succeeded in the US market, at the expense of losers such as Fiat, Alfa, Peugeot, and the Domestics,there is ZERO DOUBT in my mind, that if the Chinese want to succeed here, THEY WILL. No matter what one or two bigots do about it.PS try to distinguish between the hard working CHINESE PEOPLE and their GOVERNMENT once in your miserable lives.
  • 28-Cars-Later I guess Santa showed up with bales of cash for Mitsu this past Christmas.
  • Lou_BC I was looking at an extended warranty for my truck. The F&I guy was trying to sell me on the idea by telling me how his wife's Cadillac had 2 infotainment failures costing $4,600 dollars each and how it was very common in all of their products. These idiots can't build a reliable vehicle and they want me to trust them with the vehicle "taking over" for me.