Ford's March sales rise 5% on small cars, EcoBoost engines
Consumers pick Focus over Fiesta; market share falls
DETROIT -- Sales of the Ford Focus compact car helped to pace Ford Motor Co.'s March sales gain, but Fiesta subcompact sales plummeted as consumers opted for a Focus.
Ford again saw its largest sales gains come from coastal markets such as California.
Ford's March U.S. sales rose 5 percent to 222,884 units from a year earlier.
That left Ford's sales in the first quarter up 9 percent to 537,822 units. The company's U.S. market share now stands at 15.5 percent, down from 16.2 percent a year earlier, as industry sales have increased more than 13 percent.
In March, Ford-brand sales were up 5 percent to 214,081. Lincoln gained rose 4 percent to 8,803. For the quarter, Ford-brand sales climbed 9 percent to 516,986 units, and Lincoln sales rose 4 percent to 20,836.
"We continue to see strong growth in the coastal areas, particularly in California," Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in a conference call with reporters and analysts. "It's very heartening to see those significant, almost doubling, sales in the Focus, for example. There is extremely high demand for fuel-efficient vehicles."
Ford is also seeing high demand for its F-150 pickup equipped with the direct-inject turbocharged EcoBoost engine in regions such as Texas, Czubay said.
Focus eats up Fiesta
March sales of the Focus soared 65 percent to 28,293. But Fiesta sales plummeted 34 percent to 6,502.
Through March, Focus sales climbed 78 percent to 66,043 while Fiesta sales slid 24 percent to 15,522.
Despite the Fiesta's sales decline, sales of the Focus and Fiesta combined will give Ford its best share in the subcompact and compact car segments in 10 years, said Erich Merkle, Ford's U.S. sales analyst.
And Ford's broader showroom lineup in the small-car segment means consumers have more choices, Czubay added. He said he is not bothered by consumers opting for a Focus over a Fiesta.
"The consumer comes into the showroom, and they're looking for a fuel-economy vehicle," Czubay said. "They'll look at the Fiesta, Fusion and the Focus. They are settling on the vehicle where the payments are right. They walk out with a car that best meets their needs."
Ford does not plan to change the pricing of the Focus or Fiesta to adjust to demand, Czubay said.
The continued popularity of the direct-inject turbocharged EcoBoost engines helped boost sales in other vehicle segments, Czubay said. Ford's EcoBoost engines generally achieve 20 percent better fuel economy than a naturally aspirated engine.
Czubay said 19 percent of Ford Edge crossover retail sales were equipped with the EcoBoost engine. Likewise, 12 percent of the retail sales of Explorer SUVs consisted of those equipped with the EcoBoost engine, and 41 percent of F-series buyers chose the EcoBoost engine in March.
Ford plans to triple production of its EcoBoost engines this year, Czubay said.
He declined to quantify the premium a consumer pays for the EcoBoost engine, though it's estimated by analysts and dealers to be several hundred to a thousand dollars. With rising fuel prices, Czubay said, consumer demand for the engine continues despite the premium.
'Voting with their wallet'
"There is a premium for those EcoBoost engines. However, when the consumer sits down with the salesperson and they go through the gains in fuel economy and the gains in residual values, they're voting with their wallet," Czubay said.
For the month, retail sales of the automaker's cars gained 10 percent, retail sales of its crossovers and SUVs advanced 11 percent, and retail sales of its pickups climbed 12 percent, Czubay said.
"It doesn't get more balanced than that," Czubay said. "We have fuel-economy leaders in each of those supersegments."
Merkle said Ford ended the month with 480,000 vehicles in inventory, which is about a 58-day supply. That's up slightly from a year earlier when Ford had 410,000 vehicles in stock, or a 52-day supply at the then-current sales pace.
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