Ford F-Series fends off Ram truck as Explorer and Police Interceptor sales drop

Phoebe Wall Howard Detroit Free Press Published 10:02 AM EST Jan 7, 2020 Sales of the Ford F-Series, Ford Explorer and Police Interceptor have dropped over the last year, the company announced Monday.

Ford said U.S. sales of its F-Series, which includes the highly lucrative F-150 full-size pickup, dipped 1.4% to 896,526 in 2019. Explorer sales dropped 26% to 168,309. And Police Interceptor nosedived 44.6% to 18,752 - during the same time police agencies have said they're clamoring for vehicles that the Dearborn automaker isn't delivering because of production issues.

Michelle Krebs, senior director of automotive relations for Cox Automotive, said: "The F-Series carries the load for Ford sales. Ford desperately needs to get the Explorer, another high-volume seller, back on track." The manufacturing transformation at Chicago Assembly in 2019 was one of the most complex in the company's history, resulting in delays delivering Explorers and Police Interceptors to customers, Kelli Felker, a Ford spokeswoman, told the Free Press in October. "We're working as quickly as possible to get these vehicles into the hands of our customers as we continue to ramp up production and perform additional quality inspections," Felker said. 

Ford spokesman Said Deep said Ford didn't plan to hold a call to have company executives discuss the sales numbers. He provided comment in response to written questions and forecast a brighter future. "The changeover to Explorer was a large undertaking at the plant, similar to that of F-Series from a few years back," Deep said. "We are pleased to report that Explorer sales are responding well, as our inventory position replenishes."

Auto sales: These 8 vehicles were the hottest-selling cars, trucks and SUVs of 2019 Want to invest in electric vehicles?: Start with their parts The Free Press reported in September that Ford was shipping thousands of 2020Explorers and Lincoln Aviators by truck from its Chicago factory to its Flat Rock plant south of Detroit as workers desperately attempted to identify and fix a series of complicated problems in the much-awaited SUVs.

Dealers in different parts of the country confirmed they'd been notified of delays because of "manufacturing issues," leading one dealership to say the team has had to "pacify" frustrated customers. Some of the vehicles already had been recalled, including from dealer lots.  Problems included: 

  • Explorer chassis issues. X-rays are being used to try to diagnose problems.
  • Explorer transmission-related questions that prevent the vehicle from going into park or properly sensing the vehicle is in park.

    Some transmissions are not going into park and the computer is automatically activating the parking brake. Also, the computer cannot determine whether the vehicle is going into park properly and then not activating the brake, which means the vehicles are rolling away. 

More: Mysterious problems disrupt delivery of 2020 Ford Explorer, Lincoln Aviator

As for the Police Interceptor, which had been a strong seller, Deep said, "It is part of the Explorer changeover and, as mentioned above, it was a large undertaking at the plant. Sales of Police Interceptor continue to grow with strong demand coming from police departments across the country.

The sales decline is temporary and due to the changeover." While Ford holds a commanding lead in the truck war, Ram trucks just surged past No.

2 Chevy Silverado with a record 18% sales growth to 633,694 in 2019. The good news for Ford is that the F-Series celebrates its 43rd straight year as America's best-selling pickup. In the last quarter of 2019, sales grew 1.6% to 233,952 from a year earlier.

"America's best-selling brand for the past decade is on a roll," said Mark LaNeve, vice president of marketing, sales and service, in a prepared statement. "F-Series celebrates 43 years as the country's favorite truck and 38 years as its overall vehicle, and Transit stood at the top of the van podium again. We promised a winning portfolio and that's what we're delivering with more on the way, including Mustang Mach-E, an all-new F-150 and the return of Bronco. It's going to be an exciting year for new product at Ford."

LaNeve was the only Ford executive quoted in the news release. While F-Series sales held steady in fourth quarter, the situation wasn't so rosy for the popular Explorer and Police Interceptor SUVs. Their sales dropped 14.6% and 61.8%, respectively. Ford sold 48,083 Explorers and 3,201 Police Interceptors, both of which have made the news for manufacturing issues.

Happy news? Ford Expedition, EcoSport and Flex all saw double-digit gains in 2019 in the U.S. Still, Ford reported a drop in car and SUV sales for the fourth quarter and for the year - with overall sales down 1.3% to 601,862 for the last three months and down 3% to 2,422,698 for the year. 

Trucks, as always, saved the day. The midsize Ranger debuted to great reviews and sold 33,059 in the fourth quarter and 89,571 total for 2019. The Transit van and Transit Connect also did well, with double digit growth for the year at 153,868 and 41,598, respectively.

Truck battle

In the end, America focuses on pickups, which deliver the biggest profit margins for auto companies.

Here's a snapshot of where the leaders stand: Fourth quarter: Ford reported F-Series sales rose 1.6% to 233,952. Fourth quarter: GM reported Silverado sales rose 1% to 163,341.

Fourth quarter: Ram sales rose 7% to 172,579. For the year: F-Series sales dropped 1.4% to 896,526. For the year: Silverado sales slipped 2% to 575,600.

For the year: Ram sales rose 18% to a record 633,694.

Ranger victory

"With the launch of Ranger, our overall pickup truck sales are up 8.4% this year," Ford spokesman Deep said. "In Q4, we saw an increase of 1.6% in F-Series sales while producing our best Q4 sales results for the Ranger, since its re-introduction at the beginning of 2019 with sales of 33,059. We are currently building F-Series pickups to capacity, so we are in a very good position." Analysts said they plan to study the numbers to try to forecast what's to come for Ford.

Jon Gabrielsen, an independent market economist who advises automakers, said the Ranger sales numbers are significant. "While this has no impact on the F-Series standing in the full-size pickup truck wars, this is critical because it shows that the re-introduction of the Ranger has had very little cannibalization impact on sales of the F-series." At the same time, he said, Ford needs to get problems fixed with Explorer and Police Interceptor. "Time will tell if they continue into 2020," Gabrielsen said.

Within Ford, Lincoln delivered good news with sales up for the quarter by 17.8% to 33,355 vehicles and for the year up 8.3% or 112,204 vehicles. The Nautilus and Navigator SUVs carried the day with year to date growth in the double digits.  Across the industry, 2019 new car and truck sales, including Tesla estimates, came in at 17.1 million, which is a 1.6% drop compared with 17.3 million in 2018, Edmunds noted.

In June 2019, the auto research analysts predicted vehicle sales would dip to 16.9 million and then revised its forecast in December 2019 to 17.1 million. Automakers have been bracing for a slowdown. Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-222-6512 or [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid.

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