The rapid run-up in gasoline prices strained the supply of small cars across the industry, including at Ford, Pipas said. At the beginning of April, the industry's days supply for small cars was in the 20s, he said.
Ford's 2012 redesigned Focus compact is in high demand and tight supply. Pipas said part of the problem is that last month Ford was still ramping up Focus production. Ford builds the car at its Michigan Assembly Plant outside Detroit.
Selling 'off the convoy truck'
"This is really the first month of the Focus and, heck, dealers were telling us they were selling them off the convoy truck," said Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service during a sales call with analysts and media.
"We're restocking as fast as we can," Czubay said.
Ford started April with about 500 of the 2012 Focus cars on the ground. Pipas said another 4,000 were in transit at that time. Altogether, Pipas said, Ford sold 17,000 Focus units in April, of which 12,000 were the 2012 model and the remainder leftover 2011s.
Ford ended the month with 2,500 units of the 2011 Focus in stock, he said.
Even though Ford plans to provide more 2012 Focus cars to its dealers in May, "I'm sure the inventory will be lean, though, because there is so much demand," Pipas said. "We're going to build every small car that our assembly and our component system can deliver. I don't think we'll take any downtime in that segment."
Explorer supplies also tight
The redesigned 2011 Explorer crossover also is in high demand and tight supply. The crossover is built at Ford's plant in Chicago alongside the Ford Taurus and the Lincoln MKS sedans. Pipas said roughly two-thirds of the plant capacity is dedicated to building the Explorer.
"We're not there on availability, but on [Explorer] production we're fully ramped up," Pipas said. "We're rocking and rolling on Explorer. It's just that people are buying them so quickly."
Ford ended the month with 396,000 vehicles in inventory, split between 109,000 cars and 287,000 trucks.
"If consumer demand continues to outpace production, our demand will be tight at the end of May, too," on all vehicles, Pipas said. "Certainly, our dealers will have more to sell in May, though."
Transaction prices up
Ford's average transaction price rose 6 percent in April from a year earlier and 4 percent from March, Pipas said. He did not provide the prices.
Preliminary data from TrueCar.com show Ford's average transaction price in April at $32,461, up 3 percent from a year earlier.
Average incentive spending for the industry was down about $300 in April from March, Pipas said. He said Ford's average incentive spending dropped nearly $600 per vehicle in that same period.
Czubay credited the rise in transaction prices to customers' wanting a richer product mix with high-end features such as leather seats and in-vehicle technology.