DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. says its redesigned 2012 Focus compact and 2011 Explorer crossover inventories will remain lean, but the flow to dealers will be more steady.
The Focus and Explorer propped Ford’s May sales results. But they were not enough to offset a decline in F-series pickup sales because of high gasoline prices and a struggling housing market.
Ford’s total May sales fell 3 percent from the year-ago period. Ford division sales rose 5 percent and Lincoln sales fell 5 percent in May.
Ford said its car sales rose 4 percent last month, but truck deliveries slid 7 percent, with F-series pickup volume off 15 percent.
“The full-sized pickup category has been affected by higher gas prices and this is keeping some pickup drivers on the sidelines,” said Ken Czubay, Ford’s vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service. “Commercial truck buyers are still in the market, but the retail market accounted for 9 percent of segment sales compared to 12 percent in May of last year.”
Czubay said the slowdown in pickup sales is temporary.
George Pipas, Ford’s sales analyst, said he does not expect Ford to use heavy incentives to spur sales.
“We’re beginning the month of June with inventories of F-series trucks in the 60-day range,” Pipas said. “We’re in a very strong position. I wouldn’t expect to see much in the way of a crazy summer sell-down at the end of the model year on F-series trucks.”
At the end of May, Ford had 103,000 cars and 294,000 trucks in inventory, Pipas said. That’s a day supply in the low 50s.
Meanwhile, Ford said it plans to build 630,000 vehicles in North America during the third quarter, up 44,000, or 8 percent, from the same quarter last year. Of that, the mix will be 220,000 cars and 410,000 trucks.
In the second quarter, Ford plans to produce 710,000 vehicles, unchanged from its previous forecast, and up 57,000 units, or 9 percent, from the second quarter last year.
In May, the redesigned Explorer had its highest sales month in four years, selling 13,318 units, a gain of 135 percent. That means dealers sold more than half of the Explorers on their lots, Czubay said.
Many Ford dealers have said they can’t get enough of the redesigned Explorer and Focus to meet demand. But Pipas said inventory levels will not change much.
“We’ll issue stocks for each of our products tomorrow [Thursday], but it continues to be lean,” Pipas said during the company’s sales call. “There’s a continuous flow now -- we’re past the Focus launch, the Fiesta launch and the Explorer launch -- and dealers are getting a continuous flow.”
The litmus test
Czubay said Ford’s bet on fuel-efficient vehicles paid off in May.
Average U.S. gasoline prices peaked at $3.97 a gallon in May before falling. But the quick run-up in pump prices did not deter Fiesta buyers, many of whom were first-time car owners, Czubay said.
Ford’s Fiesta sales were 36,594 through May. It launched the car last June.
“Fiesta consumers are up to three times more likely to buy for style, technology and innovation than the segment average,” Czubay said. “And 18 percent of Fiesta buyers are buying for the first time. We’re making great strides in bringing in young, new customers into the Ford portfolio.”
Ford’s total Focus sales rose 32 percent and retail sales rose 9 percent. Czubay says 8.5 percent of Focus retail sales were in California. That compares with 5.7 percent for the previous model’s California retail sales share.
California is important, Czubay said, because it leads the nation in small car sales.
Ford’s retail share in California reached a level in May that Ford has not seen in six years -- when Ford offered employee pricing for everyone. Czubay did not release Ford’s California retail share.
Ford’s retail share of the U.S. small car market in May reached 11 percent, up from around 6 percent a year ago. Ford has not seen a level that high since the 2002-03 time frame, he said.
“Clearly this market is a litmus test for Ford’s ability to grow its market share across the U.S.” Czubay said. “Ford is passing the litmus test.”
Fuel economy even played out in the pickup segment. Czubay said for the first time ever, V-6 engines outsold V-8 engines in the F-150.
Said Czubay: “This is one of those Ripley’s Believe it or Not events.”