DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. expects its new cars made in Chicago to hit their highest monthly sales total in March. But the three still are falling short of the pace necessary to meet annual sales targets.
U.S. sales of the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans and Ford Freestyle sport wagon are on track to total around 17,000 in March, said George Pipas, Ford's manager of sales analysis and reporting. That would top February, the vehicles' best sales month, by more than 2,000 units.
The Five Hundred, Freestyle and Montego went on sale last September.
The likely sales rate for the three cars in both March and April should translate to annual U.S. sales of more than 200,000, Pipas said.
But even counting the 10 percent of production that goes to Canada, the Chicago cars won't be on track to hit their target of 250,000 in annual sales.
"That's OK," Pipas said. "We could get to the annual target by employing a level of incentives or level of fleet business that wouldn't be good for (our) long-term strategy."
Ford is trying to lower incentive spending and keep new cars out of rental fleets. So far it has offered no cash rebate on the cars, though it is subsidizing lease deals.
Retail customers account for more than 90 percent of purchases, though limited sales to daily rental companies are expected to start soon.
Of the Chicago products, the Five Hundred is the biggest seller, with likely sales approaching 9,000 in March, Pipas said. The Freestyle will approach 6,000 and the Montego about 2,000.
The vehicles continue to build momentum and should hit annual sales targets eventually, Ford officials say.
Launch snags slowed inventory buildup, and the vehicles also have been knocked for conservative styling.
Pipas said the cars are doing well, even if they aren't generating as much excitement as the 2005 Mustang.
Last fall he feared the Five Hundred, Freestyle and Montego could end up a "train wreck," given Ford's disappointing track record in car segments.
"We have, of our own doing, just removed ourselves from the radar screen of the mid-sized car market," Pipas said. "The Taurus and the Sable were really just not on anyone's lips."
Ford intends to tread carefully with the Five Hundred to leave room for its next new-car introductions, the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, which go on sale this fall. Those smaller mid-sized sedans will be positioned between the Ford Focus and the Five Hundred. The Taurus will be primarily a fleet car for the rest of its life.
Ford wants to maintain the Five Hundred's $23,000-plus price point without heavy discounting so that the Fusion makes sense starting around $17,000 or $18,000.
Said Pipas: "We want to make sure we're not squeezing that product" from either side.
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