Ford dealer: Cars are the new version of toilet paper panic

A Ford logo on a 2017 Ford Focus. Ford dealers say new car sales spiked in the first quarter of 2021. (Ford/TNS)
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Phoebe Wall Howard Detroit Free Press (TNS)

DETROIT – Despite only a slight increase in overall sales so far this year, it’s a new day in paradise, some Ford Motor Co. dealers said Thursday.

Business for them has seen a dramatic turnaround from the first three months a year ago, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down cities and dealerships across America. Now, with safety protocols in place and used car prices up, new car sales spiked in the first quarter of 2021.

“Both our stores set records,” said Chad Wilson, general manager of Wilson Ford in Saginaw and Midland Ford. “We’ve had the Midland store since 1991 and the Saginaw store since 2018. I don’t know that we’ve ever seen numbers like this.”

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What’s selling? “Everything,” he said.

“The only explanation that I can even muster is that cars are 2021’s version of toilet paper in 2020,” Wilson said. “We are taking a lot of retail orders because we don’t have anything (in stock). Normally between our two stores, we’d have 150-180 F-series in stock. I think right now there might be 10. I do think there’s an element of fear of missing out.”

Ongoing production shutdowns related to parts shortages and COVID-19 have led to smaller supplies of vehicles globally.

Ford reported a 1% increase in total sales in the United States from a year ago to 521,334, according to sales data released Thursday. The automaker saw a 5.1% increase in truck sales to 277,233 and a 14.3% increase in SUV sales to 216,899.

Sales highlights for first quarter include:

All-electric Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Powerboost Hybrid with 25,980 F-150 Powerboost Hybrids at 7,176 and 3,949 in March alone F-Series saw its best start in 15 years, up 24.5% with 203,797 pickups Bronco Sport and Mustang Mach-E totaled 29,970

Overall, Ford saw sales climb with Explorer, Expedition, F-Series, Ranger, E-Series, Transit Connect and Lincoln Aviator and Navigator.

“Our customers are really embracing our new electrified vehicle lineup,” said Andrew Frick, vice president of Ford sales in the U.S. and Canada.

General Motors reported Thursday its first-quarter new car sales grew 4% in the U.S., with 642,250 new vehicles during the first three months this year compared with the same period a year ago. Stellantis hadn’t yet reported its quarterly sales data.

Used car prices are high so trade-in transactions work great for buyers these days, especially when paired with new vehicle incentive discounts.

“As of yesterday, neither store had an Edge still in stock. All the 2020 Escapes were gone. We’ve seen a couple 2021s getting dropped off,” Wilson said. “Over the last month, we saw four to five Expeditions show up and none lasted a couple days. Explorers, as fast as you get it, goes. I’ve never seen a market where things turn this fast. Nobody came in and said they weren’t buying.”

Meanwhile, Jeff King, vice president and general manager at Bozard Ford Lincoln in St. Augustine, Florida, said, “Volumes are at or very close to records in every department, trucks and used cars both at Ford and Lincoln. For a dealer that sells 70 F-150s a month, we’ve got 14 in stock. Supply is very low but demand seems to be at record highs.”

Buyers seem to have saved up money over the past year through less travel, fewer restaurant visits and fewer commutes to work, dealers said.

“Americans, when we’ve got money in our pocket, we want to spend it and reward ourselves,” King said. “Salesmen are running after the transport trucks when they show up to see if their customers’ vehicles are on them.”

His recent customer trade-ins include Range Rovers, a Maserati and an Aston Martin.

Ford, General Motors and Stellantis have been reporting high transaction prices based on demand exceeding supply.

“Every manufacturer is under stocked, market demand is strong and most dealers are turning their inventories very quickly,” said Thad Szott, co-owner of Szott Auto Group in White Lake Charter Township, which sells Ford, Jeep, Toyota, Chrysler, Dodge and Ram Trucks. “High demand, lower supply, low interest rates and strong credit availability create stronger consumer flexibility. Many consumers settled for their second, third or fourth choice and those that won’t settle are placing custom orders.”

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