DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. posted its largest year-over-year U.S. sales decline in six years and its third in the past four months.
Ford’s light-vehicle sales fell 8.8 percent in August, including a 6.1 percent slide for the F-series pickup. Sales of its cars plunged 25 percent, with the Fusion sedan down 33 percent.
Sales declined 9.4 percent for the Ford brand but rose 7 percent for Lincoln, which was bolstered by a 50 percent jump for the MKX crossover.
Mark LaNeve, Ford’s vice president for U.S. marketing, sales and service, said the automaker held the line on incentives, keeping them “almost stone cold flat” despite falling demand for cars. In the past, he said, Ford and its rivals would have been more aggressive to avoid reporting such a large sales decrease.
“We didn’t see any big fluctuations in incentive spend but we did see our business strengthen in the last 10 days,” LaNeve said on a conference call with analysts and reporters. “We’re certainly using some restraint in accepting some of the segmentation trends we’re seeing and managing the business in a logical way.”
That appears to be a large reason for the Fusion’s poor performance. LaNeve said only 20 percent of the Fusions sold were the refreshed 2017 version. Dealers are selling down the outgoing model without using huge discounts that could pull buyers away from a more profitable crossover such as the Edge or Explorer.
“We’re not pushing real hard in some of the lease markets where Fusion has historically performed well,” LaNeve said.
Ford said fleet deliveries of all vehicles, including its medium and heavy trucks, were down 10 percent in August, while retail sales declined 8 percent. Just 21 percent of Ford’s sales were to fleet buyers last month, down from 32 percent year to date. Ford said deliveries to rental-car companies accounted for 90 percent of the fleet decline.
The fleet reduction, which LaNeve said was planned after a strong first half of the year to meet an influx of orders, turned an 8 percent retail gain for the Escape crossover in August into an overall decline of 2.8 percent for that nameplate. Escape fleet sales were down 50 percent, LaNeve said.
August was the best retail month of 2016 for the F-150, LaNeve said, though overall sales for the F-series were down in comparison with a strong month last year. Ford sold a “couple hundred” of the newly redesigned Super Duty last month, he said.
“We’re shipping them in quantity, but they haven’t really reached the dealers yet,” LaNeve said. “We’re very pleased with F-series performance, even though obviously we don’t like to post a decline.”
Ford said inventories have increased from 558,000 vehicles a year ago to 640,000 now. Car inventories are down 8,000 units over that period, while stocks of trucks and utilities have each risen about 45,000 units. Ford now has an 81-day supply of vehicles, up from 74 days a month ago and 62 days a year ago, but LaNeve said he’s not concerned that dealers are getting overloaded.
“We’re in a very good position,” he said. “I’d rather be a day heavy than a day light. It’s a key selling season for us with Labor Day weekend. We’ll continue to match supply and demand.”