Ford Motor Co.’s 2013 Fusion became an instant hit with consumers and has thrust the Dearborn automaker into the middle of a four-car race atop the lucrative midsize segment.
Fusion sales, up nearly 22 percent this year, may soon be stuck at current levels because Ford can’t make enough to meet growing demand, particularly in markets such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami. If car shoppers can’t get a Fusion, Ford may lose them to a competitor — especially one of the strong-selling Japanese midsized cars.
“Inventory is going to be real tight during the summer months,” said Erich Merkle, Ford’s U.S. sales analyst, in a telephone interview.
That tightening already has begun. Ford has a 39-day supply of the car, according to automotive data and news site WardsAuto.com. That means if production were to stop today, the automaker would have enough Fusions to last about 5 1/2 weeks.
Inventory benchmarks vary by vehicle and season, but typically a healthy average is about 60 days.
The midsized car segment is the largest segment in the industry; sales of midsize cars in May were 17.3 percent of all vehicle sales, according to data compiled by automotive researchers at Kelley Blue Book.
Ford is struggling to maintain normal inventory levels of the Fusion, particularly on the East and West coasts, regions where Ford sales have historically lagged.
The Fusion, along with the Fusion Hybrid, have connected with coastal consumers better than Ford had anticipated.
Ford has doubled its coastal retail market share, Merkle said, and pointed out that the strongest areas of growth are in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami.
Ford manufactures the Fusion at its three-shift assembly plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, and this year will add a shift of production at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant.
“Clearly, it’s a matter of getting more stock out to those regions of the country and that’s what we plan to do in the fall when we get Flat Rock on line,” he said.
The Hermosillo plant can produce about 300,000 Fusions annually; the new Flat Rock shift will be able to make another 100,000, or more than 8,000 per month.
An extra 8,000 sales a month would allow Ford to challenge perennial midsize players Toyota Motor Corp., with its Camry, and Honda Motor Co., with its Accord, and fend off Nissan Motor Co.’s Altima, which is fourth in the segment, but if Ford can’t catch up with demand, the Japanese automakers may convince new car buyers to look at their offerings.
“Although midsize is still the best-selling segment, in terms of growth, things have stabilized,” said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “With such competitive products from the four automakers, it’s going to be a very, very tight race to try and own the segment outright.”
Toyota last year sold more than 400,000 Camry cars and Honda and Nissan both surpassed 300,000 with their offerings. Ford sold about 241,000 Fusions in 2012.