Ford sales were off 3% last year, but industry-wide totals still hit 17.1 million

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co.'s U.S. sales fell 3% in 2019, the automaker said Monday. The 2.4 million vehicles delivered by the automaker pushed industry-wide sales to 17.1 million in 2019.

That industry-wide figure marks a 1.6% decrease in the U.S. compared to a year prior, according to Edmunds, but keeps sales above the 17-million unit mark and near record levels.

Ford was the final automaker to report sales; others released theirs Friday. The automaker's annual sales fell by larger percentages than rivals General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. GM sales were off 2.3% in 2019; Fiat Chrysler's sales were off 1%.

More than half of the vehicles sold by Ford last year were trucks. The automaker aims in 2020 to add more SUVs to the mix to change that.

"We want to expand our SUV business over time," said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of marketing, sales and service. "I wouldn't say we're targeting specific mix, but we definitely want to expand our SUV business. We like good organic growth of our truck business as well."

Ford's results come as the automaker continues to transition its lineup to more profit-rich vehicles, pruning out sedans and compact cars in favor of more trucks, SUVs and crossovers. The Mustang Mach-E electric crossover, a new F-150 and the return of Bronco SUV are in the automaker's product pipeline.

Ford's passenger-car sales were off nearly 30% as it cuts those models from its lineup, while the truck segment was up 9%. Its SUV sales slid 5% for the year due largely to a rougher-than-expected launch of its new Explorer; sales of that model alone fell 26%.

LaNeve said the Mach-E and the yet-to-be-seen Bronco will boost SUVs over the next two years. The bumpy Explorer launch that slowed the rollout of new vehicles ate into sales until the fourth quarter, LaNeve said.

Meantime, the automaker said it sold 1.24 million trucks in the U.S. last year, a 9% increase over 2018. Ford SUV sales dropped to 830,471. Car sales plummeted 28% to 349,091. The automaker didn't sell a single Focus or C-Max in the U.S. in the fourth quarter. Taurus sales were down 65% last year. 

Fiat Chrysler also boosted truck sales. Its Ram pickups surpassed the Chevrolet Silverado in U.S. sales in 2019 for the first time ever, though the Ford F-Series — composed of five pickups ranging from the F-150 to the F-550 — continues to hold the title of best-selling pickup. 

Fiat Chrysler moved 633,694 Ram trucks in the U.S. last year; GM moved 575,600 Silverados. Counting the 40,000 Jeep Gladiator midsize trucks it sold, Fiat Chrysler sold 673,741 trucks last year. GM sold more than 963,000 trucks last year, accounting for its seven full- and midsize models. 

Ford trucks, meantime, were helped by the new midsize Ranger pickup. The automaker reported F-Series sales fell 1.4% to 896,526 vehicles, but 89,571 Ranger sales helped lift the truck segment 9% last year. The automaker's heavy trucks and work vans helped push that segment, too. 

LaNeve added that Ranger sales didn't "cannibalize" F-Series sales as much as the automaker anticipated, though Ford sold roughly as many Rangers as it expected in the first year.

Ford also saw Lincoln sales increase more than 8% last year as the automaker's luxury arm pivots to an almost all-SUV lineup. Nautilus and Navigator sales increased last year, and the automaker saw a boost from the new Aviator SUV, which was added to the lineup in the middle of the year.

Ford's sales figures should propel industry sales over the 17-million unit mark, which industry analysts expected. Auto analysts expect sales to surpass their expectations at 17.1 million, down 1.3% from 2018's 17.3 million.

Ford plans to launch new trucks, SUVs and crossovers over the next few years. LaNeve expects U.S. sales will get more competitive. 

"That's all the more reason to have a refresh of really good products," he said. "We really haven't had a strong rate of incremental new nameplates in years. I think it's the exact right time."

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau