Ford May Top GM In March Sales

By Michelle Krebs March 24, 2011

March SAAR Ford GM graphic - iStock.jpg

While it is no sure bet just yet, Ford Motor Co. has a shot at beating General Motors Co. for U.S. sales leadership in March, a month in which the Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) of sales is expected to be 13.1 million vehicles. Ford will sell 210,400 vehicles in March to GM’s 208,400, according to Edmunds.com’s forecast released Thursday. However, as demonstrated dramatically of late, much can happen in the last week of the month and especially in this environment of rising gas prices, a catastrophe in Japan and turmoil in the Middle East.

The race between Ford and GM this month surely will be neck-and-neck. A number of factors -- a last-minute sales drive, inventory issues, a fleet order – could decisively shift the advantage. If Ford does beat GM in sales, it would be the first time since February, 2010. Before that, Ford hadn’t surpassed GM since 1998, according to Edmunds.com’s records.

And if Ford moves ahead of GM in March, it would be largely due to GM’s sales drop-off more than any extraordinary sales performance by Ford. In March, GM throttled back on its high incentives spending of January and February that included always-popular customer loyalty and lease pull-ahead deals aimed at getting the automaker off to a fast sales start in 2011. Those deals expired on Feb. 28, and, as is typical when a major incentive program ends, there is a hangover effect.

2011 03 March sales forecast.jpg

Edmunds.com’s preliminary estimate indicates GM incentive spending, the highest in the industry, dropped by roughly $700 per vehicle from February to March. Firm incentive spending cannot be calculated until automakers post final March sales results on April 1. As a result of reduced incentives, though, GM sales tumbled.

Meantime, Ford’s incentive spending is up an estimated $84 a vehicle compared with February, although it is down from January, according to Edmunds.com’s preliminary estimates. Ford is aggressively selling down its outgoing '11 Focus, which is being replaced by the an all-new Focus that just went on sale this month. That sell-down apparently is going extremely well, not only due to great deals designed to wipe dealer lots clean of the old models but also due to increased consumer demand for smaller vehicles because of rising gas prices, an industry trend gaining momentum since late February. Ford is expected to show a hefty mix of fleet sales in March – about a third of its total sales – though that is in line with its typical fleet mix.

Sales Pace Slows Through Month
Edmunds.com’s forecast calls for total industry sales, including fleet sales, to total approximately 1,242,000 units. That would be a 16.5-percent increase from March 2010 and a 25.1-percent increase from February 2011. That would put the SAAR at 13.07 million, down from 13.38 million in February. Of that, retail sales are expected to be approximately 987,000 units, up from approximately 786,000 last month. That would put the retail SAAR at 10.4 million.

“February’s sales momentum carried on into the first half of March, but high-profile news events contributed to a noticeable slow down,” said Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell. “Between the natural disasters in Japan, unrest in the Middle East and a weakened stock market, the auto industry was faced with less than optimal sales conditions. So far, at least, the industry has weathered the storm, but lingering production issues with suppliers following the Japanese earthquake will keep the industry on its toes over the next several weeks.”

Edmunds.com estimates the average automaker incentives in the U.S. are estimated to be $2,321 per vehicle sold in March 2011, down $245, or 9.5 percent, from February 2011, and down $494, or 17.5 percent, from March 2010.

2011-03 March MS Forecast.jpg

Company by Company
The combined monthly U.S. market share for Chrysler, Ford and GM is estimated at 42.8 percent in March, down from 43.6 percent in March 2010 and down from 46.2 percent in February 2011. Here’s Edmunds.com’s March sales forecast for Big 6 automakers:

Ford: Sales of 210,400 vehicles, up 14.5 percent from March 2010 and up 34.4 percent from February for a market share of 16.9 percent, down from 17.2 percent in March 2010 and up from 15.8 percent in February.

GM: Sales of 208,400 vehicles, up 10.8 percent from March 2010 and up 0.7 percent from February for a market share of 16.8 percent, down from 17.6 percent in March 2010 and down from 20.8 percent in February.

Toyota: Sales of 181,100 vehicles, down 3.1 percent from March 2010, when Toyota had big incentives to drive sales after its recalls, but up 27.7 percent from February for a market share of 14.6 percent, down from 17.5 percent in March 2010 but up from 14.3 percent in February.

Honda: Sales of 135,000 vehicles, up 24.7 percent from March 2010 and up 37.7 percent from February for a market share of 10.9 percent, up from 10.2 percent in March 2010 and up from 9.9 percent in February.

Nissan: Sales of 117,500 vehicles, up 23.1 percent from March 2010 and up 27.2 percent from February for a market share of 9.5 percent, up from 9.0 percent in March 2010 and up from 9.3 percent in February.

Chrysler: Sales of 112,700 vehicles, up 21.6 percent from March 2010 and up 18.5 percent from February for a market share of 9.1 percent, up from 8.7 percent in March 2010 but down from 9.6 percent in February.

This March has 27 selling days, one more than March, 2010.

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carguy58 says: 12:08 PM, 03.24.11

How are retail sales varying from March 2011 vs March 2010 figures? Edmunds/autoobserver shouldn't go by March 2011 vs Febuary 2011 figures on the retail end of things.

guy1974 says: 1:00 PM, 03.24.11

How can Edmunds write this "Edmunds.com’s preliminary estimate indicates GM incentive spending, the highest in the industry, dropped by roughly $700 per vehicle from February to March. Firm incentive spending cannot be calculated until automakers post final March sales results on April 1. As a result of reduced incentives, though, GM sales tumbled."

When GM sales are 10% up from last March AND up 1% from February - hardly a tumble. Yes the industry grew 16-21% in those time periods but a tumble implies to me an ACTUAL fall in sales. Also GM's year on year increase (March 2011 vs March 2010 which is the only accurate way to gauge sales performance) is not much different from Ford - 10 vs 14%.

1487 says: 8:17 AM, 03.25.11

I also dont get the "tumble" comment, GM's sales are up according to these estimates. Their share is down due to less growth but there is no tumble in sales. The industry standard is to compare sales to the same sales last year in that month. edmunds is now comparing month over month sales when convenient even though that's not what automakers report each month. As guy said, sales will be up 11% for GM from march 2010 so there was no sales tumble.

1487 says: 8:25 AM, 03.28.11

Are you guys looking at the same data?

http://www.truecar.com/media/references/TrueCar_Sales_Forecast_March_2011.pdf

They are predicting far different results.

mlh says: 10:32 AM, 03.28.11

The nice thing about forecasts is that it's pretty easy to see whose is more accurate. You just have to wait for the actual data to come in. Until then, bickering about them is pretty pointless.

guy1974 says: 7:17 AM, 03.30.11

mlh - I agree that we will know the actual data soon. What I would like is for Edmunds to do a scorecard and track if they are accurate in their forecasts. They need to be held accountable for their forecasts, that way they will get better.

mlh says: 11:47 AM, 04.01.11

Just checked the actual numbers. By my calculations, Edmunds' forecast was off by 0.73% for total sales by the big 6 automakers while Truecar's forecast was off by 3.47% for the same.

And for Ford vs. GM, specifically...

Truecar forecast for GM: 232,225
Edmunds forecast for GM: 208,400
actual GM sales: 206,621

Truecar forecast for Ford: 199,712
Edmunds forecast for Ford: 210,400
actual Ford sales: 212,777

Seems pretty clear whose forecasts are better!

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