Ford posts 4.1% sales gain in May amid tightening inventory

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. sold 161,725 vehicles last month, up 4.1% from May 2020, when the automotive industry was just beginning to mount a recovery from coronavirus pandemic-related sales slumps and production shutdowns.

Ford's truck sales were down 11.6% year-over-year in May, while SUVs posted a 48.6% improvement.

“Ford sales were up 4.1 percent on tight inventories, while year-to-date sales increased 11.3 percent," Andrew Frick, vice president of Ford sales for the U.S. and Canada, said in a statement. "Ford and its dealers are working harder than ever to match the right mix of inventory to best meet the needs of our customers at the local level." 

The automaker noted that it posted record electrified vehicle sales, which totaled 10,364.

That record comes on the heels of the introduction of Ford's first fully battery-electric vehicle, the Mustang Mach-E, late last year. Mach-E had 1,945 sales in May, bringing its year-to-date sales to more than 10,500.

The automaker also sold 2,852 units of the hybrid version of its bestselling F-150 pickup truck. Meanwhile, sales of the hybrid versions of the Ford Escape and Explorer were up 125% and 132%, respectively, over the same period last year.

The automaker has received more than 70,000 reservations for its forthcoming battery-electric version of the F-150, dubbed F-150 Lightning. 

Sales of F-Series — Ford's flagship truck franchise and the best-selling vehicle in America — are up 4.7% through May on sales of 316,359 trucks, but for the month sales were down 29.2%. The automaker said that F-Series "continues to turn at record rates" amid tightening inventories. Retail orders for the trucks are three times higher than last year, according to Ford.

The Ranger pickup truck had its best May sales performance since 2004.

Meanwhile, Ford brand retail SUVs had their best May sales since 2003 while Ford brand SUVs overall were up 51.8% year-over-year.

The Blue Oval sold nearly 15,000 units of the brand-new Bronco Sport small SUV last month, helping to drive Ford's retail share in the segment up almost four percentage points. Bronco Sport's May sales performance was its best since launch, and was up 6.9% over April. Ford said that the majority of Bronco Sport customers are coming from other vehicle brands, with the No. 1 source of new customers being Stellantis NV's Jeep brand.

Sales of the Ford EcoSport, a subcompact SUV, were down 15.2%, while sales of the Edge SUV were down 32.1%. The Ford Escape, a compact SUV, saw a 51.4% sales gain. Sales of the Explorer and Expedition SUVs were up 2.1% and 110.4%, respectively.

Sales of Lincoln brand SUVs were up across the lineup in May, for a 24.3% gain. Sales of the Corsair, the best-selling vehicle in the Lincoln lineup, were up 16.2%, while Aviator sales rose 32.5% and Navigator sales expanded 65.6%. Overall, Lincoln sales were up 5% year-over-year in May.

Though automakers have been hit hard by a months-long semiconductor shortage, their bottom lines have been boosted by rising vehicle prices.

Ford reported Thursday that its average transaction price for new vehicles in the U.S. was up $3,400 from a year ago, to $42,800 per vehicle, driven in part by sales of new vehicles such as Mach-E and the Bronco Sport. 

Industrywide, sales were strong in May, outpacing last May's results but falling behind March and April of this year. U.S. sales were up across the board for automakers that report sales on a monthly basis, including Honda, Toyota and Subaru. But dwindling inventory levels due to the microchip shortage could soon start to hit sales.

Ford's inventory level stood at 30 days' supply at the end of May, down from 35 in April. Prior to the chip shortage, it was not uncommon for automakers to maintain more than 100 days' supply.

IHS Markit on Wednesday projected that the seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales for new vehicles in the U.S. would be between 16.6 million and 17 million units for May, down from 18 million in March and 18.5 million in April.

"The dynamics of the announced production slowdowns is beginning to creep into some OEM results, but the still strong sales pace for the month reflects that consumers are finding new vehicles to purchase," Chris Hopson, manager of North American light vehicle forecasting at IHS Markit, said in a statement. "We expect the sales paces in June and July to continue to recede, but not dramatically."

The "strong pricing environment," added principal automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley, "will also help automakers and dealers through the difficult time with higher profitability helping to offset the generally higher costs resulting from the fragile supply chain and low inventory."

Twitter: @JGrzelewski