The locally made Ford Explorer set a new sales record last year, as Ford retained its title as the best-selling vehicle brand in North America.
Ford sold more than 2.4 million vehicles last year and expects to have widened its lead over second-place Toyota when the final numbers come in, said U.S. sales analyst Erich Merkel. The Dearborn-based automaker outpaced Toyota by an estimated 386,041 vehicles last year, as compared to a margin of 329,677 in 2012.
All Ford models sold well last year, and four of the five vehicles built at the Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch posted year-over-year gains.
"The great news is that we are not overly reliant on any one segment – we're seeing double-digit sales growth in cars, trucks and utilities," said John Felice, vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service.
"The Ford brand has had more retail share growth than any other brand in the country, with our most significant gains coming from import-dominated coastal markets. With 16 launches next year, we're looking to keep our sales momentum going."
Ford has traditionally sold well in the Midwest, especially in Indiana and Illinois, but saw the biggest growth in sales on the West Coast and in the Southeast last year, Merkel said. Sales jumped 18 percent in the south, and 23 percent out west.
Overall, Ford's retail sales were up 15 percent, and reached their highest point in six years.
The locally made Explorer played a big part in the strong sales figures, helping Ford remain the best-selling utility brand in the United States for the third straight year.
Ford sold 158,344 Explorers in 2012, which had been its best year since the newly redesigned Explorer first started rolling off the assembly line in Hegewisch.
Last year, the automaker sold an estimated 175,000 Explorers, a 14 percent increase.
"The problem we have now is, 'how do we get more?' " Merkel said. "We're selling all the Explorers we can make. It's the best-selling mid-sized utility in the market."
Explorer sales rose last year largely because Ford was able to wring more productivity from the factory at 126th Street and Torrence Avenue on Chicago's far South Side. The plant was already running three shifts, but added "tag relief" workers to take over during breaks so the assembly line never shuts down. Ford also has worked with its network of suppliers -– including Lear Corp. and Contract Services Group in Hammond -– to bulk up the capacity supporting Explorer production, Merkel said.
"Demand for the vehicles is continuing to be higher than what we can produce," he said. "It's a high-class problem to have with a vehicle."
Sales also increased last year for the Taurus and Police Interceptors made by thousands of workers at the 90-year-old plant on the southern bank of the Calumet River. Ford sold about 65,000 Tauruses, a year-over-year gain of about 7 percent.
The Lincoln MKS was the only locally made model to see a decline in sales last year.
"It's down a little bit, but it's already made at much smaller volumes," he said.