How Did Ford Post a Comeback?

Patriotic consumers, a fresh lineup, and cash-for-clunkers. But market analysts are skeptical the recovery will stick.

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With every other American carmaker ailing, Ford has become the default auto company to cheer. But until today's sales increase of 2%--the first boost the company has seen since 2007--the "good news" has only been relative. The company may not be bankrupt, but it still owes billions in private loans.

Nevertheless, auto-junkies are celebrating like a curse has been broken. On the jubilant extreme was Autoblog's headline, "The Streak Is Broken!" More restrained were market analysts at Seeking Alpha, who warned that "cash for clunkers" was responsible for the uptick, and more trouble was on the way:

Many contend that all it's accomplishing is to move sales that would have occurred forward. If that's the case then the industry could be in for dismal late fall sales.

This may be the quiet before the storm. But Ford's success has given pundits the opportunity to consider that a U.S. automaker may have done something right. How did the company do it?

  • Ford Rejected Government Meddling, says the arch-capitalist Investor's Business Daily. "At least one major American automaker seems to be getting its act together. Ford rejected a big government bailout. How's it doing? It posted a $2.3 billion quarterly profit in the second quarter, confounding analysts and critics alike."
  • Consumers Are Feeling Spendy, says David Kiley at Businessweek. "A feeling among a growing number of consumers that the worst of the recession is behind them. They said sales of fuel-efficient vehicles were strong."
  • GM and Chrysler's Names Are Mud, says Jim Delaney at SeekingAlpha. "'New-car buyers are looking first at Ford'...Talk about turning adversity into opportunity."
  • It's All Cash for Clunkers, says Bob O'Brien. "The gains might be less than wholly organic. Chances are, absent the government's cash-for-clunkers program, July sales would have showed a decline."
  • Not Just Clunkers--Ford's Got a Great Lineup, says John Neff at Auto Blog. "Not all can be credited to CFC just yet, though, as dealers only actively started accepting trade-ins at the end of the month."

Ford is enjoying its moment in the sun as conservatives love its independence, liberals love its hybrid lineup, and patriots love its Japanese-matching scores for reliability. It's got everything going for it except, perhaps, longterm profitability.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.