Falling gasoline prices and the new Lincoln MKC crossover helped Ford Motor Co. sell more utility vehicles than cars last month for the first time since January and by the largest margin in years.
Ford sold 59,908 utilities, 10 percent more than in October 2013, and 53,542 cars, a 12 percent decline. Truck sales fell 3 percent, as the company works to avoid depleting its F-150 inventory too quickly while it ramps up production of the aluminum-clad 2015 version.
Overall, Ford sales declined 2 percent in October and are now down 1 percent for the year. It’s the only major automaker to post lower sales year-to-date than in 2013.
Four Ford-brand nameplates -- the Fusion, Escape, Explorer and Transit Connect -- each posted October records. The Escape outsold the Fusion for a second consecutive month.
Ford’s chief sales analyst, Erich Merkle, said it’s hard to pinpoint how much of the shift toward utilities last month is specifically attributable to gas prices because consumers already had been flocking to crossovers and SUVs throughout the year.
The national average for regular gas is $2.968 a gallon today, the lowest in nearly four years, according to GasBuddy.com.
“We’ve been in this trend toward utilities for quite some time, even when gas prices were higher than they are today,” Merkle said on a conference call with reporters and analysts. “It was happening well before we saw this drop of gasoline prices below $3 a gallon.”
Ford’s Lincoln brand achieved its best October in seven years with a 25 percent gain to 8,883 units.
One-fourth of Lincoln’s volume came from the new MKC, whose commercials featuring actor Matthew McConaughey have gained attention from spoofs by “Saturday Night Live” and comedians Conan O’Brien and Ellen DeGeneres. October was the MKC’s best sales month yet.
Across both the Ford and Lincoln brands, the Fusion, which has set monthly records for six consecutive months, was the only car model that posted a year-over-year increase in October.
In contrast, sales rose for every utility vehicle except the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, which are being redesigned. The Explorer’s 6 percent sales increase resulted in its best October since 2004.
John Felice, Ford’s vice president for U.S. marketing, sales and service, said Ford is making “the appropriate adjustments” in production at the Chicago plant that builds the Explorer “to make sure we can fuel demand for what is a hot segment.”
F-series sales slipped 0.6 percent but topped 60,000 units for the seventh time this year. Felice said the changeover to the redesigned F-150 “remains on track.”
Felice said 179,000 people configured and priced a new F-150 on Ford’s website online from Sept. 25 through last week and that more than 200,000 people signed up to receive more information about the truck when it is available.
“This is the largest number of hand raisers we’ve ever received, car or truck, in a monthlong window,” Felice said.
Fleet sales were up 6 percent for Ford, the result of an 18 percent increase in deliveries to commercial customers, Merkle said. Sales to car-rental companies were down 13 percent.
Retail sales fell 4 percent to 136,392 units.
Inventory declined by about 30,000 units from a year ago. Ford said it had an 88-day supply as of Friday, down from 91 days at the end of October 2013.