Ford Motor Co. says it plans to build 2 percent fewer vehicles in North America during the first quarter of 2014 than it did in the same period of this year, which would be the automaker's first year-over-year decline in nearly five years.
Ford officials said the company could increase output if sales during the next few months are stronger than expected but that it needs to keep supplies from rising further. Ford currently has 682,000 vehicles in inventory, 32 percent more than it did a year ago.
That is the equivalent of an 89-day supply, up from 73 days at the end of November 2012.
"We do have that ability to add some production back in if necessary," Ford's chief sales analyst, Erich Merkle, said on a conference call today, "but for right now, we're going to watch this market very carefully as we match supply with demand."
Ford's sales rose 7 percent overall last month. Its retail sales increased 9 percent to 147,021 units, the highest volume for any November since 2004. Fleet sales accounted for 23 percent of the month's deliveries, versus 29 percent year-to-date.
Sales of the F-series pickup rose 16 percent to 65,501 units, topping 60,000 for the seventh consecutive month. Ford's total pickup sales for the year are on pace to exceed 750,000.
"You look at trucks and they're hot right now," Merkle said. "We're looking at some really strong F-series numbers."
Sales of the Fusion mid-sized sedan posted a 51 percent increase, despite what executives described as "a very aggressive competitive environment" in that segment during the month.
Merkle said Ford is trying to hold back on incentives, even as rivals such as Toyota Motor Sales USA ramp up discounts, "to keep those residuals strong and not degrade the brand."
Other high-volume models, including the Focus, Edge and Explorer, posted declines. Sales of the Escape, which has now been recalled seven times in the 2013 model year after two additional recalls were announced last week to address fire risks, were flat.
Sales of the C-Max plunged 51 percent to 2,398; its sales have dropped 27 percent over the past three months after Ford revised its fuel-economy rating downward in August.
The Lincoln brand posted a 17 percent gain, as sales of the MKZ sedan more than doubled to 2,854 units.
Ford sold 32,851 more vehicles in 11 months this year than it did in all of 2012, making it the only one of the eight largest automakers to already top 2012 sales total.
Merkle said Ford is selling its vehicles for an average of $700 more this year while also adding six-tenths of a point of market share.
"There really isn't any other automaker that has increased average transaction prices by that amount and has produced anything more than a tenth of a point gain in share," he said.
The 770,000 vehicles that Ford plans to build in the first quarter would be unchanged from the fourth quarter of this year. It built 784,000 vehicles in the first quarter of 2013. Merkle said the first-quarter forecast calls for building 4 percent fewer cars and utility vehicles and 2 percent more trucks.
The last time Ford's North American quarterly production declined year-over-year was in the second quarter of 2009, according to the Automotive News Data Center.