Ford Beats GM in March Sales

Ford edged GM in total sales in March with 212,777 vehicles to 206,621 total sales with both companies showing double-digit increases over February sales.

At GM, March’s retail sales increase was spurred by a 34-percent rise in passenger car retail sales, led by a 287 percent gain in retail sales of the Cruze over the car it replaced. Companies like to trumpet retail sales as proof of growing consumer interest.

At Ford, in March, total sales were 212,777, up 19 percent. Retail sales were up 14 percent and fleet sales were up 29 percent (commercial was up 50 percent, government was up 33 percent and daily rental was up 13 percent).

Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell said, "As we predicted, Ford outsold GM this month. Ford increased incentives spending despite the fact that most other automakers posted a decrease. However, having strong entries in subcompact, compact, and small SUV really helps when gas prices soar."

The incentives battle is an interesting thing. In February, GM was relying heavily on incentives to the point that Hyundai CEO John Krafcik intimated there was going to be a price war when Toyota jumped into the fray. The incentives ardor cooled at GM in March but picked up at Ford, which may have moved to incentives in an attempt to stave off competitive pressure from GM that never materialized.

“We’ve said all along that our plan for the year was to be at or near industry average on incentives as a percent of average transaction prices, as we were last year,” said Don Johnson, vice president, U.S. Sales Operations. “Our actions in March were consistent with that plan and we will continue to be prudent in our go-to-market approach.”

For the first quarter, the Chevrolet Camaro is beating the Ford Mustang in the battle of the affordable muscle cars. GM didn’t release specific numbers for the Camaro in March but it appears to have been a close race based on previous months' sales figures. For the quarter, 15,419 Mustangs were sold vs. 19,972 Camaros. However, in March, Ford sold 8,557 Mustangs and GM appears to have sold 8727 Camaros – almost a statistical dead heat. Read more about the muscle cars here.

Ford’s new Fiesta set a record in March as monthly sales reached 9,787, up 56 percent from February. Fiesta’s retail share of its segment has increased every month since it was introduced last summer, and Los Angeles continues to be the No. 1 sales region for Fiesta.

Fusion also set a new record with sales of 27,566, up 21 percent versus a year ago.
The Ford Mustang (up 47 percent) and Lincoln MKZ (up 28 percent) also posted higher sales than a year ago. Sales of the MKZ Hybrid reached a record 615, accounting for 20 percent of MKZ retail sales.

One has to wonder about the wisdom of MKZ buyers. The MKZ hybrid, which gets substantially better fuel economy, costs the same as the MKZ with only a gas engine. It's an automotive win-win but only one in five Lincoln customers are availing themselves of the fuel-saving opportunity.

Also at GM, March deliveries to fleets declined 1 percent and represented 27 percent of the company’s total sales – the ninth straight month that fleet sales comprised less than 30 percent of total sales. Companies like to downplay fleet sales, even though in lean times they keep factories humming, because they hurt residual values. A three-year old sedan with heavy rental-car fleet rotation isn't going to be worth as much as a competitor's sedan that doesn't grace airport parking lots.

In the first quarter, fleet sales represented 24 percent of the company’s total sales volume, compared to 30 percent in the first quarter of 2010. March, though, was at 27 percent with higher sales, which seems to represent an increased emphasis on fleet sales. After all, you have to sell the vehicles one way or another.

Here's how sales break down by GM brand:

  • Chevrolet dealers delivered 148,197 total vehicles in March, an 11-percent increase versus last year.
  • Buick reported 15,663 total sales, a 21-percent increase compared to March 2010. This includes a 24-percent rise in year-over-year retail sales, led by improving demand for the all-new Regal.
  • GMC reported total sales of 30,597, an 11-percent increase compared to the same month last year. This marks the 18th consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases. Cadillac reported total sales of 12,164 for March – 5 percent higher than last March, with retail sales increasing 14 percent.

Here are interesting tidbits from Ford's sales report:

  • Fiesta sets U.S. record as monthly sales reach 9,787, up 56 percent versus February
  • Fusion and Escape also set monthly sales records, up 21 percent and 25 percent, respectively, versus a year ago
  • Explorer sales up 111 percent year over year
  • F-Series sales up 25 percent; new V6 engines account for 37 percent of 2011 F-150 retail sales

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