April 1 (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co. outsold General Motors Co. for the first time in more than a year in March as GM offered smaller discounts and Ford boosted sales of new or refreshed models.
Ford’s light-vehicle deliveries in the month climbed to 212,295, topping GM’s sales of 206,621, the companies said today. GM’s 9.6 percent sales increase trailed five analysts’ average estimate for a 20 percent gain. Ford, beating GM for the second time in the past 13 years, reported a 16 percent increase that 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.”
Industrywide light-vehicle sales ran at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 13.1 million in March, according to researcher Autodata Corp. That topped the 12.9 million average estimate of nine analysts. The sales pace accelerated from 11.7 million a year earlier and slowed from 13.4 million in February, according to the Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based researcher.
Ford Fleet Sales
GM said it outsold Ford during the month on a retail basis, which excludes deliveries to corporate, government and rental-car company buyers. Ford had 75,280 fleet sales in March, or a 35 percent share of its deliveries, while GM sold 56,465 vehicles to fleet buyers, a 27 percent share.
The margin that Ford beat GM by was “larger than we expected,” Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at Edmunds.com, said 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.”
GM still leads for the year, 592,545 to 495,508, Autodata said.
GM rose $1.38, or 4.5 percent, to $32.41 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Ford gained 25 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $15.16.
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.
Toyota Sales Drop
Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s largest automaker, said deliveries of Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands fell 5.7 percent to 176,222 vehicles. The drop, led by fewer sales of its Camry sedan and RAV4 SUV, was bigger than the 3.6 percent average estimate of four analysts.
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.
Hyundai Motor Co., South Korea’s largest automaker, said deliveries rose 32 percent to 61,873 vehicles, a record for its U.S. sales in March.
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.
No ‘Significant’ Slowdown
“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.
Global automakers may have lost production of 585,000 light vehicles in March including 550,000 in Japan, according to IHS Automotive in Lexington, Massachusetts. Automakers may eventually lose as much as 100,000 units of production in North America beginning in April that likely would be made up by the end of the year, according to J.D. Power & Associates in Troy, Michigan.
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.
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.
Higher demand for small cars such as the Fiesta and Focus “pinched” inventories, Pipas said. The Fiesta has about a 40-days supply, from 60 days at the beginning of March, and Focus inventory also declined, he said.
“Most likely, lean small-car inventories will be a headwind on the industry’s sales rates as we began this month,” Pipas said.
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