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FCA outsells Ford for first time in 11 years

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
.Ford Motor Co. sold 204,650 vehicles in April, down 4.7 percent from the same month last year, while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV increased 5 percent in the same month.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV outsold Ford Motor Co. in September — the first time Detroit's No. 3 automaker has done so since January 2007.

Powered by its Jeep and Ram brands, FCA posted a 15-percent increase in U.S. sales last month with 199,819 deliveries, eking past Ford's 197,404 deliveries in September. FCA has beaten Ford in retail sales five out of nine months this year.

"It was mostly expected to happen this year, as Ford moves away from sedans," Michelle Krebs, an automotive analyst for Cox Automotive, said in an emailed statement. "It might just be a fluke month, but that’s a significant shift in the automotive world and a wake-up call for Dearborn."

But Ford brushed aside the upset on a conference call with analysts and media Tuesday morning.

"We don’t worry about being in a contest with (FCA)," Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service,Mark LaNeve, said. "There have been months when we beat General Motors and we didn't pound our chests ... It was a function of timing."

General Motors Co., which no longer reports monthly sales, saw deliveries slide 11.1 percent during the third quarter, with every brand posting decreases for the quarter. GM's sales are down 1.2 percent through the first nine months of the year.

FCA's third quarter sales increased by about 10 percent compared to the same quarter last year, while Ford's third quarter sales are down 3.5 percent compared to the same period last year.

Sales of GM's Chevrolet Silverado pickup were down 14.3 percent in the third quarter while the GMC Sierra was down 7.1 percent. The automaker is transitioning to redesigned 2019 models of both full-size pickups.

“We entered the quarter with very lean inventories of our 2018-model full-size pickups, so we focused on driving a very strong mix of SUVs, crossovers and mid-size pickups,” Kurt McNeil, GM's U.S. vice president of sales operations, said in a statement. “We also transitioned to the 2019 model year far earlier than some key competitors, which allowed us to reduce incentives while others raised them sharply.”

LaNeve said that the Dearborn automaker's September performance is a "tale of two hurricanes."

LaNeve says Hurricane Florence caused a disruption to its business on the East Coast, particularly in the Carolinas, last month. Hurricane Harvey in Houston last year created a surge in replacement demand during September 2017 — Ford's best sales month for that year.

LaNeve said it was "impossible to quantify the effect of Florence," but most of its East Coast markets were affected in some way. FCA said Florence impacted five of its markets in the area, cutting sales by an estimated 900 vehicles.

Ford's total sales are down 2.4 percent through the first nine months of the year, while FCA's are up 6 percent.

FCA's Jeep brand continues to lead the charge for the Italian-American automaker, posting a 14-percent increase in September sales on gains for the Cherokee and Compass. Jeep is up 20 percent for the year.

The automaker's Ram brand reported a 9-percent increase in September, while the brand is flat for the year.

“Our Ram and Jeep brands propelled both our retail and total sales to their highest level in 18 years,” Reid Bigland, FCA's head of U.S. sales, said in a statement.

FCA's Chrysler and Fiat brands continue to struggle, with Chrysler down 7 percent in September and 12 percent for the year, while Fiat's sales decreased 46 percent in September and 43 percent through the first nine months of the year.

Ford's car division continued to plummet in September, down 25.7 percent. SUVs fell 2.7 percent while trucks were down 9.9 percent. The Expedition and Lincoln Navigator were among the only nameplates to post increases for Ford in September. 

Ford's valuable F-Series lineup and its Transit van also remain bright spots for the  automaker, with the F-Series up 3.1 percent through September and the Transit up 13.5 percent.

Ford's Lincoln brand slipped 7.2 percent in September. The premium brand is down 9 percent for the year despite success for its pricey Navigator SUV, which has seen sales increase 81.9 percent through September.

Among foreign brands, Toyota Motor Corp. saw sales slip 10.4 percent in September on declines in its sedan lineup. The Corolla was down 35.7 percent, Avalon dipped 10.7 percent and Camry fell 17.2 percent last month.

Honda Motor Co. saw U.S. sales fall 7 percent in September, Nissan fell 12.2 percent and Subaru increased 3.5 percent. 

The industry experienced a record-breaking September in 2017 after fallout from Hurricane Harvey drove up replacement demand, which explains some of the drastic drop offs from automakers this month. Another factor contributing to the sales slowdown are rising interest rates.

Edmunds reported that the annual percentage rate on new financed vehicles in September was 5.8 percent, up a full percentage point from the same month last year. Interest rates on new cars have stayed above 5 percent for the last 8 months.

In a sign that car shoppers are experiencing tighter credit conditions, Edmunds saw the average down payment on new vehicles rise to $4,198 from $3,817 in September 2017 and average loan levels dropped to 68.7 months from 69.4 months last year.

And according to Cox Automotive, average transaction prices have elevated 2 percent to $35,742 in September.

“The trickle-down effect of elevated interest rates really started hitting car shoppers in September,” Jeremy Acevedo, an analyst for Edmunds, said in an emailed statement. “While new vehicle prices continue to rise, favorable credit offerings are growing increasingly more difficult to come by. Buying conditions are far less amenable for consumers than they were before, which might come as a shock for shoppers coming back to the market for the first time in a few years.”

Twitter: @NoraNaughton