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Ford profit up as Ranger overtakes Toyota Hilux as Australia's best-selling ute

Ford's Australian-designed utility, the Ranger, is helping lift the US company's fortunes in the Asia Pacific region, where it delivered a full-year profit for the first time since 2011.

The light trucks category, which includes vehicles like pick-ups and utilities, helped propel Ford to a pre-tax profit of $US10.8 billion ($15.4 billion) – its highest result – for its entire global operations.

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Locally, the Ranger pipped its Japanese-owned rival, the Toyota Hilux, as Australia's best-selling ute for the third time in six months.

Ranger sales totalled more than 2400 in January – a 35.5 per cent increase compared with the same month in 2015, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.

The Ranger, which is built in Thailand and sold in about 200 markets, was the third best-selling vehicle in Australia behind the Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla. It helped quadruple Ford's pre-tax profit in the Asia Pacific region to $US444 million in three months to December 31, from $US95 million the year before.

The company didn't break down the results for its Australian division. These will be announced in May. Last year, Ford Australia posted a $191 million loss after sales plunged to a 48-year low.


But Ford chief executive Mark Fields said that "the fruits of the labour of our Australian transformation plan are really starting to take hold".

Ford Australia spokesman Wes Sherwood said the Australian business was strengthening but declined to comment further on its financial performance.

"This month [was] a big shot in the arm and ahead of our plans in terms of Ranger," Mr Sherwood said.

"It's a huge pride point among our designers and engineers here in Australia," he said.

"They have poured everything into it."

The Ranger outsold the Hilux for the first time last September and again in October.

Mr Sherwood said that at first, Ford's management thought it was an anomaly because Toyota was introducing a new Hilux model at the time.

"We knew it was temporary and once they ramped up volumes of their new truck that they would very likely come back, which they did," he said.

"This one [January sales results] we're still checking if they had any supply constraints."

But Mr Sherwood said overtaking Hilux wasn't in Ford's sights.

"It was a nice surprise for us. It wasn't in our plan. We obviously [had] long-term ambitions to keep closing the gap on Hilux, which we have been doing – we have basically cut half off their sales lead in the past five years.

"We'd love to sustain it but our real goal is getting to private retail customers and having that drive our business instead of less profitable fleet sales, which tend to rob the brand."

Hilux sales rose 0.4 per cent in January to 2341 units.

The Ranger was Ford's only vehicle in the top 20 best-selling cars. Sales of the Falcon, Ford's traditional family sedan which will cease production in October, dived about 40 per cent to 235 in January. The Falcon ute declined by a similar amount, while the company's other locally built car, the Territory, slid by about 20 per cent.

Mr Sherwood said there was enough volume for the company to stick by its commitment of not closing its Australian factories before October this year.

"We have just announced we have got a high performance of the Falcon, called the Sprint, coming out in the next few months, so we are just keeping that model going and doing as much as we can."

Excluding one-time items, Ford earned US58¢ a share in the fourth quarter from its entire global operations, against Wall Street expectations of US51¢, according to Thomson Reuters.

The car maker earned most of its money in the quarter and for the full year in North America, where falling petrol prices have spurred demand for profitable large pick-ups, including the Ford F-150 and Super Duty models.

Despite record profits for 2015, Ford shares have slumped more than 16 per cent since January 1 as analysts and investors have begun factoring in fears that the US and Chinese car markets are headed for slower growth, or possibly contraction, over the next several years following a long boom.

with Reuters