Ford Motor joined Fiat Chrysler and other major automakers in reporting double-digit declines in first-quarter U.S. vehicle sales as consumers shelter in place and dealerships close amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ford reported Thursday that its sales fell 12.5% through March from a year ago. The decline is larger than the company's crosstown rivals but is lower than the 15% slide expected for the overall industry.
March is typically the highest sales month of the first quarter, with many sales coming toward the end of the month as automakers offer additional discounts. However, the coronavirus and states enacting stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders significantly disrupted dealers from selling vehicles.
"Looking at the quarter, it started out really well," said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service. "March was actually going really good until the 10th, … and then as we started getting states going to shelter-in-place, then we started feeling a much more profound impact."
Only about a third of Ford's 3,100 U.S. dealers have showrooms completely open for sales, according to LaNeve. About 50% of its U.S. dealers have closed showrooms but can sell online, he said.
The most notable decline for Ford in the first quarter was sales of its F-Series pickup, America's best-selling vehicle for decades. Sales of the pickup declined 13.1% in the quarter. That compares with an increase of 27.3% for General Motors' full-size pickups and a roughly 7% increase for Fiat Chrysler's Ram pickup.
LaNeve attributed the sales decline for the pickup to a "huge decrease," as planned, to rental companies and GM and Fiat Chrysler offering greater incentives or discounts on their trucks
"We feel like we maintained a really healthy lead with F-Series, and we're well-positioned from an inventory standpoint for what spring market may be out there in Q2," he said.
Ford sold 186,562 F-Series pickups, including the F-150, in the first quarter. GM sold 143,698 Chevrolet Silverado and 53,009 GMC Sierra pickups through March, while Fiat Chrysler sold 128,805 Ram pickups.
GM and Fiat Chrysler last month offered well-qualified new car buyers 0% financing for 84 months and deferred payments of 90 days on 2019 and 2020 models.Ford also matched those offers on 2019 models but offered up to three months of deferred payment and to pay for three additional months on 2020 pickups.