DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. had some good sales news and some bad sales news last month.
The good news: Ford's total sales rose 9 percent to 126,981. And about 90,000 of those sales were retail, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
Indeed, Ford division's January retail sales climbed 27 percent from a year earlier, the largest retail sales gain in more than a decade, Ford said.
A surge in small car sales and high demand for recently launched vehicles also boosted total sales.
But Lincoln and what's left of Mercury provided the bad news.
A sharp decline in Lincoln sales, drops in fleet orders and the discontinuation of the Mercury brand weighed down Ford's overall sales.
Ford's luxury brand, Lincoln, saw its total sales slump 21 percent to 5,558 in January.
Ford discontinued the Mercury brand on Dec. 31. Ford sold 248 Mercury vehicles in January, down from 5,482 a year earlier. Mercury accounted for about 0.7 percentage point of Ford's market share last month.
Ford's year starts strong
George Pipas, Ford's sales analyst, said the gain in Ford division's retail sales helped offset a 10 percent dip in fleet sales, which was led by a 27 percent decline in daily rental orders.
“The strong retail sales helped Ford offset losing Mercury and offset the decline in fleet sales,” Pipas said. “We measure this as being a very strong start to 2011.”
The Focus compact and Fiesta subcompact cars accounted for 14 percent of Ford's retail sales in January, up from 9 percent a year ago, Pipas said.
The Escape, Edge and Explorer crossovers delivered strong retail sales, too. Escape retail sales rose 30 percent.
Ford did not break out specific retail numbers on the crossovers, but Pipas said the redesigned 2011 Explorer, which went into production in early December, has more than tripled its year-earlier retail sales. In January, Explorer sales rose 73 percent to 7,351.
High turn rate
At the end of January, Ford had about 5,000 2011 Explorers on the ground. Sales as a percentage of availability -- meaning the amount in dealer inventory compared with the selling rate -- is more than 50 percent, Pipas said. Typically, 30 percent is considered high.
Ken Czubay, vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said, “When you look at the high turn rate on the Explorer, we're building the cars that consumers are telling us to build and we're getting a good turn over on them.”
Ford ended the month with 409,000 total vehicles in stock, about 10,000 more than at the end of December.
Ford's transaction prices on recently launched vehicles, such as the 2011 Explorer, are roughly $6,000 over those on the outgoing model, Pipas said.
“People are willing to pay more for Ford products and we've seen transaction prices go up,” Czubay added. “We're running a profitable business and that will continue.”
Lincoln's long journey
Ford executives said Lincoln's January sales tumble should be viewed in the context of the brand's makeover.
“Rather than analyze results every month, let's realize we're on a journey” to redefine and rebuild Lincoln, Pipas said during a sales call. “It's not going to happen overnight. We're going to keep pointing towards a goal line. This is a journey and not a sprint.”
Ford promises seven new or improved Lincoln vehicles in the next four years. Ford wants Lincoln dealers to either invest in facility upgrades or sell back the franchise in a goal to eliminate about 200 franchises in the top 130 markets.
January sales of the MKZ rose 18 percent to 1,574. The MKZ hybrid version accounts for about a quarter of those sales, Pipas said.
While MKX sales slid 29 percent to 1,546 last month, Czubay said the crossover has “the fastest turn rate in three of the largest luxury markets in the United States: Los Angeles, Miami and New York.”
MKS sedan sales plunged 53 percent to 601.