Ford, FCA February sales soar; GM down slightly

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Automakers were feeling the love in February as customers continued to scoop up SUVs, trucks and other new vehicles at a historic pace.

The industry sold 1.34 million new cars and trucks last month, a 6.9 percent increase from a year ago, according to Autodata Corp.

An extra selling day, as well as the Super Bowl and Presidents Day holiday, coupled with long-term favorable factors like low interest rates, available credit and low gas prices to boost numbers.

“The automotive industry continues to demonstrate a resiliency even after a record sales year, with top OEMs demonstrating a disciplined, long-term approach to both retail and fleet sales,” Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said in a statement. “The consumer is out in force, discovering sophisticated vehicles at nearly any price point with the latest in safety, technology and reliability they could only dream about in the eleven years since many bought a new car.”

As has been the trend in recent years, sales were driven by SUVs and trucks. Sales of SUVs and crossovers rose 12.4 percent last month to 490,091, according to Autodata, while pickup sales rose 7.1 percent to 197,790.

The Detroit automakers posted mixed results. Ford Motor Co. led the way with a 20.2 percent sales gain due to an uptick in its fleet business, while sales at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles rose 11.8 percent. General Motors Co.’s sales fell 1.5 percent due to a decrease in daily rental sales.

Ford’s retail sales rose 11 percent, but its strong numbers can be explained by a 36 percent increase in fleet sales. Executives said Tuesday that Ford’s fleet numbers are front-loaded this year (up 35 percent through the first two months of the year), compared to 2015 when its daily rental, government and commercial orders were low.

For the full year, Ford expects fleet sales will be slightly higher than 2015.

“We like this business,” said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service. “It’s a profitable business and we manage it very well.”

GM, meanwhile, reduced daily rentals by 39 percent last month as part of a planned decline. Its retail sales rose 7 percent.

“Our strategy is simple: grow profitable retail share while maintaining discipline with inventory levels and incentive spending, while reducing rental deliveries,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. vice president of sales operations.

The Detroit automaker was led by its Buick brand, which saw a 2.3 percent sales increase. Cadillac sales rose 0.9 percent. GMC sales fell 6.8 percent, while Chevrolet sales fell 0.7 percent.

Ford’s numbers were strong across the board as the automaker sold 216,045 vehicles last month, compared to 179,673 during the same month last year. SUV sales rose 29.2 percent, while truck sales rose 14.8 percent and car sales rose 18.8 percent, according to Ford.

“We saw a solid industry last month and a stronger month for Ford, as customer demand for our newest vehicles — including new high-end series on Explorer and Edge — helped Ford increase its average transaction prices at almost double the industry average,” LaNeve said. “Offering more high-end options for truck and SUV customers and having the capability fleet buyers value as they are reinvesting in their fleets are strengthening our business.”

Ford-brand vehicle sales rose 19.9 percent, while Lincoln sales were up 30.4 percent.

Every Lincoln vehicle posted sales gains last month, led by the MKX’s 109.3 percent increase.

FCA sold 182,879 vehicles last month, compared to 163,586 vehicles sold in February 2012. The company’s sales were once again driven by Ram trucks and Jeep SUVs, which saw a 27 and 23 percent sales gain, respectively.

The Dodge brand posted a 12 percent gain, while the Alfa Rome brand posted a 4 percent sales increases. Sales fell 26 percent for the Chrysler brand and 9 percent for the Fiat brand.

A number of vehicles, including the Jeep Cherokee, Wrangler, Patriot, Compass, Ram pickup, ProMaster, ProMaster City, Dodge Journey and Challenger each recorded their best February sales ever.

The strong numbers come in spite of poor winter weather in parts of the country and the end of many holiday and year-end sales events.

“Typically January and February are relatively slow months in terms of car sales; if that’s true for 2016, and we only go up from here, we are looking at a remarkable year,” Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell said.

LMC Automotive’s forecast for 2016 remains 17.8 million vehicles, which would again set an all-time record following last year’s record-setting sales of 17.47 million vehicles.

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