||Sales Race: GM Reigns But Ford Gains
In 2007, the auto industry's last good year before the recession, General Motors outsold Ford Motor Co. in the United States by more than 105,000 units a month on average.
In the past 12 months, the gap has narrowed to fewer than 25,000. In September, Ford nearly pulled off what would have been only the third monthly upset of GM in 15 years, falling short by 2,743 units, or less than half a day's worth of Ford sales.
Ford's upward momentum is pressuring GM to play more defense as it seeks to maintain its long-held spot as the nation's sales leader. And it is refueling the age-old, crosstown rivalry that had cooled somewhat during the downturn.
GM is raising incentives on its lucrative, newly redesigned pickups and other vehicles this month after sales fell 11 percent in September.
"The first three weeks of September, there was no traffic," said Brad Lillie, general manager of Gregg Young Chevrolet in Omaha, Neb. "They just weren't very competitive, especially on trucks."
Ford gained half a point of market share through three quarters of 2013, more than any other automaker, while GM's share slipped another tenth of a point. The crosstown rivals are now separated by just 2 points of U.S. share, whereas the gap was nearly 8 points in 2007.
Three nameplates -- the F series, Fusion and Escape -- are largely responsible for Ford's rising share. They alone accounted for more than 1 million of the company's 1.9 million sales through three quarters of 2013.
In particular, the Fusion's sudden transformation from mid-sized also-ran to a legitimate Toyota Camry challenger highlights how Ford has succeeded. Meanwhile, GM is hurrying a refresh of the Chevrolet Malibu in response to tanking sales of that sedan.
"Ford has taken a few more risks trying to be more progressive in terms of style and it's paid off," said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "Ford just seems to have the right product in those key growth segments right now, and they are going to continue to close the gap."
Ford up, GM down
Ford Motor Co. sales increased 6 percent in September, compared with a 6 percent decline for the rest of the industry. Overall, auto sales declined 4 percent for the month. Automakers' September results were hurt by the fact that the busy Labor Day weekend counted toward August, and the industry's seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate fell to 15.3 million from 16.1 million the previous month.
GM attributed a portion of its decline to a 27 percent cutback in September fleet sales, while Ford's fleet sales rose 8 percent. GM said its retail sales slid 6 percent, which was roughly average for the industry.
"We held our own in terms of retail market share," Kurt McNeil, GM's vice president of U.S. sales operations, told analysts and reporters during a conference call.
Chevy sales fell 15 percent, dragged down by a 25 percent decline for the Impala and 51 percent decline for the Cruze, which had its worst month since production reached full speed at the end of 2010.
Dealers said the end of some GM stair-step incentive programs and a lack of incentives on the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups hurt demand. Many dealers have sold most of their 2013 pickups, which had bigger discounts, and have a limited mix of 2014 versions.
As October began, GM upped rebates on the 2014 pickups and other vehicles. It also expanded its employee-pricing program to increase discounts and include more extended family members. Company officials said both moves were planned in advance. GM also expanded incentives for members of the military.
Lillie of Gregg Young Chevrolet said last month was tough, saved for his dealership only by three days of strong sales at the end. But he remains confident that GM is in a good position for the fourth quarter.
Ford, on the other hand, boosted its retail share significantly in September, as the only one of the seven largest automakers to manage higher retail deliveries, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Ford's retail sales rose 5 percent last month.
"Our balanced portfolio is paying dividends," Ken Czubay, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said on a conference call. "We're getting the uplift from the truck business, which is recovering, but we're getting solid recovery on the car side also."
As a result, in three quarters of 2013, the Ford brand narrowly outsold GM's two mass-market brands, Chevy and GMC, by 1,278 units. In 2007, Chevy and GMC easily topped the Ford brand by about 650,000 units. (GM also sold nearly 600,000 Pontiacs and Saturns that year.)
That means GM's upscale brands, Cadillac and Buick, are entirely responsible for fending off Ford, which is struggling to revive Lincoln.
Despite Ford's progress, George Magliano, an analyst with IHS Automotive, no longer envisions it overtaking GM on an annual basis, something he projected during the recession would happen by 2015. But he does expect Ford to continue gaining ground on GM, forecasting 2020 market share of 17 percent for GM and 15.9 percent for Ford.
He said Ford's efforts to increase prices and margins on many of its top-selling models will come at the expense of some volume, keeping GM in first place.
(Source: Automotive News, 10/07/13)
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