Ford: Fusion sales hit U.S. record on fatter deals

Much of Fusion's sales growth is coming in California, where buyers have embraced the car's hybrid and plug-in electric offerings, Ford says.
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DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co.'s Fusion sedan posted record U.S. sales in March as the automaker raised the model's incentives 32 percent to meet growing competition in the contested family-car market.

Sales of the Fusion, lauded for styling that evokes Aston Martin luxury cars, topped the previous record of 30,284 sold in the same month last year, according to Erich Merkle, Ford's sales analyst.

It was only the second time Ford has sold more than 30,000 Fusions in a month since its debut in October 2005.

The Fusion is Ford's best shot at reclaiming the car-sales crown it last held in the 1990s heyday of the Taurus, a vehicle CEO Alan Mulally studied and admired when he was at Boeing Co. before he came to the automaker in 2006.

The company is chasing Toyota Motor Corp.'s Camry, the top-selling car in America for the last 12 years.

In 2013, Fusion ranked fourth among mid-size sedans, the largest segment in the U.S. auto market, behind the Camry, Honda Motor Co.'s Accord and Nissan Motor Co.'s Altima.

"There's a tremendous amount of competition in this segment," Merkle said. "This is really hand-to-hand combat. There's no other way to describe it. This is bloody, it's in the trenches."

Ford raised incentives on the Fusion by $770 over last year to an average $3,160 per model, which Merkle said was $80 below the average discount in the mid-sized car category.

Still, the Fusion sold for an average of about $23,500, putting it above Camry and near the top of the category, Merkle said. The Fusion's average price was down from a year earlier, he added, without specifying by how much.

Performance reversal

Fusion's record March is a reversal of its performance in the first two months of the year. Sales fell 11.3 percent in January and February, to 44,615, according to researcher Autodata Corp. Camry sales were down 17.2 percent this year through February to 52,330, and trailed the Nissan Altima, which rose 8.5 percent to 53,364. Honda Accord sales were off 12.9 percent through February to 45,226, according to Autodata.

Much of Fusion's sales growth is coming in California, where buyers have embraced the car's hybrid and plug-in electric offerings, Merkle said.

"We have many power train offerings that appeal to the Californians now," Merkle said. "The electrified powertrains tend to do very well in the state."

Ford boosted annual Fusion output by as much as 100,000 in August when it added a shift at a factory in Flat Rock, Mich. Ford also builds the car at a plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, which has the capacity to build 350,000 Fusions and Lincoln MKZ models annually, according to researcher LMC Automotive.

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