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Ford continued to deliver the bulk of its earnings from North America during the latest quarter.

Ford Motor Co. reported a 39% drop in earnings for the first quarter of 2014, dipping below analysts’ estimates at $989 million, or 24 cents a share.

But the maker downplayed the decline from a year-ago net profit of $1.6 billion, noting the heavy investments required as it prepares to launch 23 new models worldwide this year, its most aggressive product roll-out in half a century.

Though the decline was slightly worse than expected, it took few by surprise, as Ford had signaled the likelihood 2014’s total would not match the $7.2 billion earned all last year. Nonetheless, the maker handily outdid its cross-town rival General Motors, which saw its own net profit plunge 85.5% for the first quarter, to just $125 million.

A key difference is that Ford hasn’t had the major recall headaches that have been hammering GM since it first revealed an ignition switch defect in mid-February. It did have some more modest recall costs, as well as higher warranty expenses, along other one-time items including losses on currency exchange shifts in South America, that cut into the pre-tax profit of $1.4 billion. Nonetheless, it was the maker’s 19th consecutive quarterly profit.

An old name for a new model, as Ford brings back the Escort badge in China.

“We had a solid quarter, and we are on track with our most aggressive product launch schedule in our history,” Alan Mulally, Ford president and CEO said in a statement accompanying the numbers. “Our One Ford plan continues to deliver as we serve customers in more markets around the world with a full family of vehicles committed to best-in-class quality, fuel efficiency, safety, smart design and value.”

(Hammered by recalls, GM’s earnings plunge. Click Here for that story.)

This could be one of the last times Mulally presides over an earnings announcement at the second-largest of the Detroit makers. As TheDetroitBureau.com reported earlier this week, the one-time Boeing executive, who has been credited with leading a dramatic turnaround at Ford over the last eight years, is expected to announce his retirement as early as next month. His replacement is slated to be Mark Fields.

Currently the Ford Chief Operating Officer, Fields served as the maker’s President of the Americas until late 2012 – the unit now headed by Joe Hinrichs. While there were problems in Latin America, notably in Venezuela, Ford’s North American operations delivered the bulk of its first-quarter profit. That said, pre-tax earnings still slipped by $892 million, to $1.5 billion.

Operating Officer, Fields served as the maker’s President of the Americas until late 2012 – the unit now headed by Joe Hinrichs. While there were problems in Latin America, notably in Venezuela, Ford’s North American operations delivered the bulk of its first-quarter profit. That said, pre-tax earnings still slipped by $892 million, to $1.5 billion.

(Click Here to check out Ford’s limited-edition, 50th anniversary Mustang.)

Ford Chairman Bill Ford stands beside the 50th anniversary Ford Mustang. Only 1,964 copies of the limited edition Mustang will be made.

Meanwhile, Ford continued to make improvements in Europe, where it is frantically hoping to reverse years in the red with a major turnaround plan that involves plant closings and other cuts. The loss there was more than halved during the quarter, from $425 million a year ago, to $194 million. Some analysts have predicted Ford of Europe could be back in the black by year-end, though Fields last week said the maker is sticking with its guidance that it will continue in the red until 2016.

Meanwhile, Ford turned around its Asia Pacific operations, delivering a $291 million profit, compared with a $28 million loss during January to March 2013.

As with most of its competitors, China could be a key to Ford’s future. The Motown maker was a relatively latecomer to the booming market, ceding control to rivals Volkswagen AG and GM, but an aggressive, if belated, expansion plan has been paying off in double-digit growth. Ford is now the third-largest maker in China, and its Focus model is the top-selling nameplate.

The U.S. maker unveiled a number of new products at this week’s Beijing Motor Show – even bringing back an old name for a new compact sedan it has dubbed the Ford Escort. Ford also unveiled a concept version of the next-generation Lincoln MKX crossover-utility vehicle to celebrate the official launch of the struggling luxury brand’s new Chinese sales network. Lincoln’s Global Director Matt Vandyke recently told TheDetroitBureau.com China could eventually become a larger market for the maker than the U.S.

(An old name returns. Click Here to check out the new Ford Escort.)

The Escort, as well as the new 2015 Ford Mustang shown at the New York Auto Show last week, are among 23 new or completely updated products the maker plans to introduce this year – 16 of those coming to the U.S. While Ford expects the launch effort to hurt its near-term earnings, it is betting that those products will help it boost sales and share, as well as profits, longer-term.

(Lincoln looks East. But can the booming China save an American icon? Click Hereto find out.)

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