This year continues to be a tough one for automakers - unless their name is Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) , that is.

Tesla is up almost 6% Thursday, after posting earnings that beat expectations for the second quarter. Meanwhile, Tesla's Detroit rivals at Ford Motor Co. (F) have been struggling this year. Shares of Ford are down 9.4% since the calendar flipped to January, underperforming the S&P 500's massive rally by a very big margin.

In some ways, Ford and Tesla are cross-town rivals. While Ford still calls Detroit home, the firm has a big (and growing) presence in Silicon Valley, where it's working on plans to have fully autonomous vehicles in commercial operation by the year 2021. Simply put, Ford is targeting Tesla and its own autopilot functionality right now.

At the same time, Ford has been ramping up its own electric car plans, with a plug-in F-150, Mustang and Transit all in the works for 2020.

While Ford is planning a very ambitious future, the present isn't looking quite so hot.

Ford started this week by reporting July sales that missed Wall Street's expectations by a big margin. Analysts had been expecting a 6.2% decline in sales, but Ford's unit sales actually dropped by 7.5%.

While the miss was unwelcome by Ford investors, it doesn't change Ford's price trajectory. Shares are still on the verge of carving out a long-term bottom. Here's how to trade it:

Ford has been forming an inverse head-and-shoulders pattern since mid-March, signaling the potential for a reversal higher. It's an ugly price pattern, but it's tradable.

The inverse head and shoulders is a technical reversal setup that indicates exhaustion among sellers. You can spot this price pattern by looking for two swing lows that bottom out at approximately the same level (the shoulders), separated by a lower low (the head). The buy signal comes on a move through Ford's neckline - that's currently at the $11.70 level.

Getting back to $11.70 will require a little patience but comes with considerable upside room once buyers muster the strength to push shares above that price, namely a push to prior highs set earlier in the year at $12.40. Moving through $11.70 is our signal that buyers are back in control of this stock.

Ford's price momentum, measured by 14-day RSI up at the top of the price chart, has been in an uptrend of its own, making a series of higher lows on each of the inverse head and shoulder's three price reversals. That's a bullish divergence that signals buying pressure has been building in Ford despite its recent rout.

Wait for $11.70 to get crossed, then pull the trigger on the Ford trade.

Ford's shares fell 0.2% to $10.97 early Thursday afternoon. Tesla rose 6.7% to $347.83.

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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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