2021 Auto News USA

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

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 uptick since the coronavirus pandemic shut down cities and dealerships across America. 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.”

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.

To better illustrate the strong demand dealers are experiencing, Erich Merkle, Ford U.S. sales analyst, pointed out that the company’s retail sales are up 23.1% over a year ago. Retail sales are defined by those vehicles that are sold directly off dealer lots and not to the fleet or daily rental.

Sales highlights for first quarter include:

  • All-electric Mustang Mach-E totaled 6,614 vehicles.
  • F-150 Powerboost Hybrids sold 7,176, including 3,949 in March
  • F-Series saw its best start in 15 years, up 24.5% with 203,797 pickups
  • Bronco Sport totaled 23,356 with 9,780 in March alone

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

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. Stellantis reported first quarter sales increased 5% to 469,651 vehicles, up from 446,768 during the first quarter of 2020.

Trade-ins

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

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.”

Jeff King, vice president and general manager at Bozard Ford Lincoln in St. Augustine, Florida, pictured here at his dealership in July 2019, said business has been crazy in first quarter 2021.

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