Lincoln brand sales dropped 2 percent in March to 8,501 units.
Ford outsold GM during March by 5,674 units, the first time since February 2010, when the difference was just 471 vehicles, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Before that, the last time Ford led GM in monthly U.S. light vehicle sales was in July 1998, when GM's output was curtailed by a strike at Delphi Corp. As a result, Ford outsold GM by 83,883 units.
Sales of the Focus compact declined 12 percent in March to 17,178 units. Pipas said this is because of the transition to the 2012 Focus, which is being shipped to dealers now. Lower fleet sales of the model also played a role, although Pipas did not specify how much those sales dropped.
The Fiesta, in its first year of U.S. sales, continued to gain market share while recording monthly sales of 9,787, up 56 percent from February.
Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said the Fiesta gave Ford almost 20 percent of the U.S. subcompact market. Those strong sales have pinched dealers' supply of the vehicle, he said.
"At the beginning of March we had about a 60-day supply of Fiestas in dealer stock. Today we have about a 40-day supply," Czubay said. "Most likely lean small-car inventories will be a head wind on the industry's sales rate as we begin this month."
The Fusion mid-sized sedan saw a 21 percent increase in sales from March last year to 27,566.
Explorer continues surge
Sales of the redesigned Explorer SUV more than doubled from a year ago to 12,482. This marked the best month for the model since June 2007 and made it Ford's "fastest-turning vehicle" for the third month in a row, Czubay said.
Added Pipas: "As soon as it hits the dealership, it's sold."
Demand has left the automaker with just an 11-day supply, the same as at the end of February.
The Escape crossover set a sales record in March with 23,975, up 25 percent.
Even with U.S. gasoline prices around $3.50 per gallon, sales of Ford's F-series pickup jumped 25 percent in March to 53,272. Ford's more fuel-efficient 3.5- and 3.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 engines, added as powertrain options in the 2011 model year to a lineup that previously offered only V-8s, accounted for 37 percent of F-150 sales this month.
"Although we're doing well in it, that segment, the full-size pickup, has been decreasing," Czubay said.
"We've noted that stronger sales to businesses has masked," he said, some "weakness of retail demand resulting from higher gasoline prices."