Ford Motor Co. said Wednesday it expects to post a 20 percent drop in January U.S. auto sales compared with the same month a year ago, due largely to lower sales to rental-car companies.
But the automaker said its turnaround plan is on track.
Companies report January sales on Thursday. Sales by Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. are expected to rise, but General Motors Corp. said last week that it expects its January sales to fall, also because of lower rental fleet sales.
This year, Toyota is expected to take Ford’s No. 2 spot in U.S. sales after its sales surpassed Ford’s in two months last year.
Toyota likely will beat Ford again in January, analysts say.
Dearborn-based Ford sold 190,574 cars and light trucks in January 2006.
While the decline in fleet sales hurts overall sales numbers, GM and Ford have said they are trying to focus on sales to more-profitable retail customers as part of their North American turnaround efforts.
George Pipas, Ford’s top sales analyst, said during a news briefing on the eve of January sales figure day that the company’s retail sales should be about flat compared to the first month of last year. Retail sales will be boosted in January by the new Edge crossover and rising sales of the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ midsized sedans, he said.
“Retail sales are holding up really well compared to January of last year,” he said.
Ford sold about 2.7 million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles in the U.S. last year, and about 900,000 of those were to fleet buyers, Pipas said. About half the fleet sales went to low-profit rental companies, and the rest were profitable sales to commercial and government fleets, he said.
Fleet sales should drop this year by 20 percent overall for the year, due largely to Ford ceasing production of the Taurus sedan, Pipas said. Ford sold about 175,000 Tauruses last year, most to fleet buyers.
Ford is predicting that pickup truck sales, where it leads the market, would be about 2.3 million units, almost the same as last year. The F-series pickup truck is Ford’s bread-and-butter vehicle and the largest-selling vehicle in the U.S., but its sales were off almost 12 percent in 2006 compared with 2005.
Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, said what happens to the F-series this year is largely dependent on how the housing industry fares.
Ford shares fell 7 cents to close at $8.13 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.