Ford Punches Toyota

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Anti-Japan protests in China — ignited by a dispute over ownership of islands in the East China Sea – have caused Toyota (NYSE:T) to reduce output in the country by half, and entirely suspend Lexus exports for the time being. China sales for the company were down 40 percent in September compared to 2011. Mazda reported that sales fell as much as 35 percent for the month. Honda (NYSE:HMC), although less entrenched in the country, has also been forced to halt production. China accounts for about 27 percent of Nissan’s global sales, and the company won’t resume production in China until at least October 8. The protests have unilaterally hurt the Japanese automakers in China.

However, Toyota and Honda posted strong U.S. auto sales for September. Toyota sales grew 41.5 percent and Honda was up 31 percent over last year. Ford (NYSE:F) dropped 0.1 percent while General Motors (NYSE:GM) posted modest gains of 1.5 percent from the month a year earlier.

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In the face of flat sales and increased competition, Ford might be trying to catch Toyota flat-footed and capitalize from the unrest. The company is rolling out its C-Max hybrid vehicle with an advertising campaign aimed directly at Toyota.

In the face of high and uncertain fuel prices, demand for hybrids has gone up. Ford picked up on this with its Fusion hybrid, but the C-Max is the first dedicated hybrid line from the company. “It’s a direct comparison. Prius is so well understood by customers. Toyota has done such a good job with hybrids. So it makes sense for us to compare C-Max to Prius,” said Ford VP of global marketing Jim Farley. Despite their similarities, the important distinction is that the C-Max boasts more fuel economy, more horse power, and costs less dollars.

The C-Max rolls in with 47 miles per gallon, 188 horse power, and a price tag of $25,995. The Prius V rolls in with 44 miles per gallon, 134 horse power, and a $27,280 price tag.

Meanwhile, the European car market continues to suffer. While Ford has initiated cost-cutting plans that could involve shutting down plants, GM has made clear that it will maintain a presence in the area with its Opel brand.

“Opel is a fully integrated part of GM’s global footprint and vital for GM’s future success in Europe,” said Steve Girsky, chairman of the Opel supervisory board. Fiat put in a bid for the brand in 2009 when GM floated the unit as part of restructuring efforts, but ultimately decided not to sell.

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