Ford Motor Co. outsold General Motors Co. for the first time in more than a year and the second time in the past 13 years in March as GM offered smaller discounts and Ford boosted sales of new or refreshed models.
Ford’s light-vehicle deliveries in the month increased to 212,295, topping GM’s sales of 206,621, the companies said today. GM’s 9.6 percent sales gain trailed five analysts’ average estimate for a 20 percent gain. Ford’s 16 percent increase topped the average estimate for a 13 percent advance.
GM reduced discounts by $600 to $800 per vehicle in March from February, dropping them below the industry average of about 10 percent of selling prices, Don Johnson, GM’s vice president of U.S. sales, said yesterday. Ford, which doubled sales of the redesigned Explorer sport-utility vehicle, last beat GM’s sales in February 2010 and during a GM strike in August 1998.
“Ford is clearly winning the overall war here,” said Mitchell Stapley, who helps oversee $17.7 billion as chief fixed-income officer at Fifth Third Asset Management in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “GM hasn’t had the organic sales growth without rebates that they need to be able to say they’ve regained momentum from Ford.”
GM rose $1.25, or 4 percent, to $32.28 at 1:29 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Ford gained 40 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $15.31.
Chrysler Group LLC, the third-largest U.S. automaker, reported a 31 percent increase in sales for the month, beating the 20 percent average estimate of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Honda, Nissan Sales
Nissan Motor Co., the second-largest Japanese automaker, increased deliveries 27 percent, topping four analysts’ average estimate of 16 percent. Honda Motor Co., the third-largest, said its sales in the U.S. rose 23 percent last month to 133,650 Honda and Acura brand cars and light trucks, trailing four analysts’ average estimate for a 24 percent gain.
Industrywide light-vehicle sales probably ran at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 12.9 million in March, according to the average of nine analysts’ estimates. A decline from the 13.4 million rate in February would be the first sequential drop in seven months, according to Autodata Corp.
The March 11 Japan earthquake that shut factories of auto manufacturers and their suppliers may not have a “significant” impact on industry sales, GM’s Johnson said today. He repeated GM’s forecast from earlier this year that U.S. auto sales may rise to 13 million to 13.5 million in 2011, including medium-and heavy-duty vehicles.
“Based on everything I see now, I just don’t see a significant slowdown happening,” Johnson said on a conference call.
Ford said today in a regulatory filing that the earthquake may “adversely affect” its financial condition. The automaker’s truck plant in Louisville, Kentucky, will be closed next week due to a parts shortage, Ford said today on a conference call. The factory makes F-Series pickups and the Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition SUVs, according to its website.
GM ended March with inventory of about 574,000 vehicles, 57,000 more than a month earlier, according to today’s statement. The automaker’s increased sales of the Chevrolet Cruze helped double GM’s share in the compact-car segment to more than 11 percent in the first quarter, from 5.4 percent in the same period a year earlier.
Explorer Sales Double
Ford’s sales of the Explorer climbed to 12,482, while the new Fiesta small car set a monthly record of 9,787 deliveries. Sales of the Fusion sedan climbed 21 percent to 27,566.
“The margin is larger than we expected,” Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at Edmunds.com, said of Ford’s victory today in an interview. “Ford has a lot of momentum right now, and GM is suffering a hangover from the aggressive incentives they offered in January and February.”
Automakers’ average incentive spending may have fallen to $2,346 per vehicle sold in March, an 8.6 percent drop from February, according to Edmunds. That’s the biggest February-to-March decline since Edmunds began tracking the data in 2002, the Santa Monica, California-based researcher said.
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