Behind the Numbers with Erich Merkle: September 2017

September was a strong month with U.S. sales up 8.7 percent and 222,248 vehicles sold. 

Many of you are probably wondering whether the September sales increase was the result of pent-up consumer demand in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  Some of it is but certainly not all of it.  We estimate that maybe a third of our sales increase came from recovery volume in the Houston area.  At the same time that Houston was recovering, however, Hurricane Irma hit Florida and that of course had a negative impact on sales for the month. 

People are still coping with the aftermath of the hurricanes in both Florida and Texas, but the recovery efforts seem to be moving quickly.  There are so many of our Ford dealers and employees along with the first responders and work crews who are working tirelessly to make this recovery possible. 

For the month, retail sales were up 4.4 percent with 169,544 vehicles sold.  As I’ve been saying in previous columns our fleet sales are now approaching easier year-over-year comparisons.  Fleet sales were up 25.1 percent in September, driven by strong gains in both the commercial and government vehicle segments. Commercial vehicle sales were up 48 percent, while our government sales were up 13 percent for the month.   

F-Series just crushed it in September with sales up 21.4 percent and 82,302 trucks sold.  You may not realize it but 82,302 is an incredibly strong number for the month of September.  We have only sold above the 80,000-truck mark in September two other times in F-Series history. September 2017 now makes three.  Customers are responding very well to the 2018 F-150 and Super Duty continues to expand F-Series sales as well.  This all comes with a gain in F-Series average transaction pricing of $2,300 per vehicle compared to a year ago.  High-series Super Duty trucks continue to be in high demand, making up 52 percent of our retail sales.  This bodes really well for the Super Duty Limited – the pinnacle of trucks – that is coming out this winter. 

Moving on to vans, Transit had an excellent September.  Sales were up 25.4 percent with 13,546 vehicles sold.  The increase in Transit vans came from both the fleet and retail side, with fleet sales up 29.3 percent and retail up 19 percent.  This was our best September Transit performance since the van launched in 2014. 

Turning to cars. . . Overall car sales declined 1.3 percent in September, which is really a lot tighter than where we’ve been in the past.  The car segment is still under a lot of pressure as people continue to move out of cars and into SUVs.  The Focus stood out in September with retail sales up 8.3 percent, supported by Focus ST and RS, marking the third straight month of sales gains for Focus. 

Retail sales of our Ford brand SUVs were up 8.8 percent in September, marking the best September retail performance since 2003.  Escape, Edge, Explorer and Expedition sales were all up at retail.  Explorer stood out nicely with retail sales up 14.9 percent and with Explorer sales up in every region of the country last month. 

Overall, September was really a great month for us.  We had strong sales gains while only increasing our incentive spend by $75 per vehicle.  That’s less than the overall industry incentive increase of $110 per vehicle last month.  While I’d like to say that the industry is about to reestablish new highs, I can’t say that.  The industry is going to continue to remain a very tough environment, as sales have plateaued.  We will have some tailwind going forward due to fleet, which will help our year-over-year comparisons as we finish out 2017.  We also may have some additional upside in sales from vehicle replacement from the hurricanes in Houston and Florida in the near term.  As we move forward, however, it’s going to be really important for us to focus hard on our day-to-day operations and launching our newest products – Expedition, Explorer and Super Duty Limited – in the months to come. 


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