Ford advances 3% after 'strong' finish

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DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. sales ticked up 3 percent in March, spurred by a strong second half of the month, particularly from the company’s two biggest sellers: the F-series pickup and Fusion mid-sized sedan.

The F series racked up sales of 70,940 for the month, up 5 percent from March 2013 and only the fourth month in the last seven years F series has topped 70,000 sales. Fusion sales rose 9 percent for the month to 32,963, a record since the vehicle was introduced in 2005.

Lincoln, long a sales laggard, continued to pick up steam as Ford tries to resurrect the luxury brand. Lincoln sales increased 31 percent for the month to 8,969, due primarily to sales of the MKZ, which jumped 72 percent to 4,052, accounting for nearly half of all Lincoln sales. March marks the sixth consecutive month Lincoln’s sales have increased. Lincoln touts the MKZ as the first of a new generation of vehicles in an ongoing brand reinvention. A second new vehicle, the MKC compact crossover, is due to arrive in the second quarter.

John Felice, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said he was encouraged by the way the market and Ford bounced back in the second half of March after harsh winter weather hampered sales earlier in the year.

“March sales turned noticeably higher midmonth and finished strong,” he said in a statement. “Fusion set an all-time record in March, as overall retail sales in the West continued to expand at the fastest rate in the nation -- including California being up 32 percent.”

Felice said conquest sales are driving Fusion sales in the West, particularly in Southern California, where 56 percent of sales are coming from other brands, most notably Toyota.

Customers in Southern California have been snapping up hybrid versions of the Fusion, he said.

Sales of Ford’s smaller cars continued to drop with the subcompact Fiesta down 2 percent and the compact Focus down 4 percent. Ford’s C-Max Hybrid compact was the biggest loser, down 39 percent overall and down 43 percent for the year to date.

Erich Merkle, Ford chief sales analyst, said the small car segment “continued to struggle” during the month, adding that “the segment is being pressured by activity in the small utility segment.”

Ford retail sales rose 3 percent to 166,030, the highest March result in eight years.

Fleet sales accounted for 32 percent of the company’s total for the month, the same percentage as March of last year. Of that total, 14 percent was to commercial fleets, 5 percent to government and 13 percent to daily rental fleets.

Ford reported 680,000 vehicles in stock or a 72-day supply. That compares with a 91-day supply for February and a 62-day supply from March 2013.

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.


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