Ford Gains for 4th Day as Explorer Heads to Russia

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Globalization is hardly a new trend, but Ford ( F) this week is touching some worldwide markets. Shares are poised for their fourth consecutive gain, adding 1.6% to $13.33 in mid-morning trading.

Ford said on Thursday that Ford Sollers, a joint venture partner, has produced its first full-production Ford Explorer in Russia, marking the first time the Explorer has been fully produced outside of the U.S. Meanwhile, China sales enabled the Focus to claim the honor of being the best-selling nameplate in the world, a claim that Toyota ( TM) is disputing.

Mounting sales in Russia and in China, where Ford is trying to make up for a late start, could help to compensate for European operations that will lose more than $1.5 billion this year. European losses have prevented Ford and GM ( TM) from participating in the year's stock market rally. While the S&P 500 is up about 11% this year, Ford is flat and GM is down 2%. In mid-morning trading, GM was up 82 cents to $29.19.

The first Explorer rolled off the assembly line Thursday at the Ford Sollers Elabuga assembly plant in the Republic of Tatarstan. Previously, only "knock-down" versions of Explorer had been built anywhere outside of the United States. Knock-down production means that parts and partially assembled vehicles are imported. The Elabuga plant had been completing work on partially assembled vehicles from Chicago since 2012.

In 2012, Explorer's U.S. sales rose 17% to 158,344, while Explorer exports grew 65% to more than 24,000 vehicles.

"Russia is on its way to being the largest market in Europe and presents an enormous opportunity for growth," said Ted Cannis, CEO of Ford Sollers, in a prepared statement. "Russian customers prefer the image and performance these utility vehicles provide in severe weather and challenging road conditions."

Ford said Monday that its China wholesale sales reached a record81,387 in March, up 65% from the same month a year earlier. First-quarter sales rose 54% to 186,596.

"Ford China's record sales for March and the first quarter demonstrate the tremendous momentum we are building in China as we deliver on our promise to bring 15 exciting new products to the Chinese customers by 2015 ," said John Lawler, Ford China CEO, in a prepared statement. Ford recently began selling Explorer in China, but its China gains were led by Focus, with March sales up 148% to 37,814.

Meanwhile. automotive data firm R.L. Polk & Co. has clarified the findings that led to Ford's claim that Focus is the world's best-selling vehicle, a contention that Toyota has disputed. Toyota said it's the Corolla, because it counts not only the sedan, which accounts for 90% of worldwide sales, but also five other Corolla models including wagons and liftbacks.

The controversy followed Ford's press release on Wednesday which declared, citing data from Polk, that Focus was the world's No. 1 nameplate in 2012 with sales of 1,020,410 units. But Toyota said Corolla sold 1.16 million units.

"The Polk data reported by Ford earlier this week is accurate based on the single nameplate 'Ford Focus,'" said Anthony Pratt, vice president of forecasting, Americas at Polk, in a prepared statement. "The data does not include any rebadged vehicles or platform derivatives for Ford Focus or any other vehicle nameplate versions."

Polk said its data is based on new vehicle registrations compiled from more than 80 countries around the world, representing 97% of global new vehicle volumes. Polk said it "does not report on or track global sales data so does not comment on OEM sales claims."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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