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Ford expecting big jump in sales

DETROIT — Ford Motor Co.’s revenues rose in the first quarter thanks to strong U.S. demand for cars and trucks, Ford’s Americas president Mark Fields said Tuesday.

Fields didn’t provide numbers, which are expected to be released later this month. But it was more good news for the automaker, which is expected to report its fourth consecutive quarterly profit in the first quarter. Ford has benefited from Toyota’s recall woes as well as consumer goodwill because it didn’t take federal bailout money, as General Motors and Chrysler did.

Ford’s U.S. sales jumped 37 percent in the first three months of this year, more than double the industry increase of 15 percent. Only Subaru and Volkswagen had higher gains. Ford’s year-over-year U.S. market share gain for the quarter, at 2.7 percentage points, was the largest gain since 1977, when results were skewed by a strike.

Ford saw market share increases across the Ford brand, according to George Pipas, Ford’s top U.S. sales analyst. The F-Series truck now holds 38.5 percent of the U.S. market, up from 33.2 percent in the first quarter last year. Sales of the Ford Fusion midsize sedan jumped 81 percent in the quarter. Sales of the new Transit Connect commercial van also were strong.

Fields said incentive spending was down for the quarter despite pressure from Toyota Motor Co., which launched its biggest incentive program ever in March after recalling millions of vehicles for safety problems. Incentives can temporarily boost sales but eat into profits. Auto information site Edmunds.com said Ford’s incentives dropped around $300 in March even as Toyota’s rose by $700.

Ford’s Mercury and Lincoln brands held on to their market share, but didn’t see increases. Pipas said the company put most of its marketing resources behind the Ford brand during the economic downturn.

“If we were going to fix the business, we had to fix the Ford brand, because that’s where we had the best chance of getting a return,” he said. “Now it’s up to us to make progress, now that we’re not thinking about where our next meal is going to come from.”

Pipas said the results likely won’t be repeated in subsequent quarters. Ford’s sales to government, commercial and rental-car fleets shot up 80 percent in the first quarter after largely disappearing during the economic downturn in the first quarter of 2009. Industrywide fleet sales rose 47 percent in the quarter, he said.

Pipas said fleet sales had begun to recover by the second quarter of last year, so comparisons won’t be as dramatic for the rest of this year.

But Pipas said that Ford was strong even without its fleet sales. Retail sales to individual customers rose 21 percent, compared with an industrywide retail sales increase of 8 percent.

Ford shares were unchanged $12.77 in early afternoon trading.


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