Cash for Clunkers Helps Boost Ford Auto Sales

The $3 billion federal Cash for Clunkers incentive helped Ford Motor Co. boost its August sales 16.8 percent versus the year-ago period, marking the second straight gain for the automaker.

The first manufacturer to release its monthly sales figures, Ford says it sold 176,323 cars and light trucks, compared with 151,021 in August of 2008. Volvo sales brought the total to 182,149 vehicles, up 17 percent from 155,690 a year ago.

According to Ford, its Focus and Escape marques were among the top selling cars under the Cash for Clunkers program. Ford dealers moved 25,547 Focus vehicles off the lot, an improvement of 55.9 percent versus August 2008. Sales of the Escape crossover jumped 49.3 percent to 20,933.

Sales of the Ford F-Series, America’s top-selling truck, grew 12.8 percent last month, to 45,590 units, marking its first year-over-year increase since October 2006.

In July, Ford posted more modest growth, boosting sales by 2.4 percent.

While analysts anticipate another industry-wide slowdown in September, Ford sees the most recent sales figures as a clear sign that the economy is beginning to turn around. “We are hopeful that the sales…are an indication that small business owners are seeing signs of recovery and gaining confidence in the outlook for stronger business conditions,” said said Ken Czubay, Ford vp, U.S. marketing, sales and service.  

While things were looking up at Ford, the same could not be said for Chrysler Group and General Motors, which weathered double-digit declines. GM saw sales fall 20.2 percent in August, to 246,479 vehicles, down from 308,817 a year ago, when it introduced its “Employee Sales For Everyone” promotion.

Chrysler sales dropped 15 percent to 93,222 units, down from 110,235 in the prior-year period.

Low inventory levels on a number of popular fuel-efficient nameplates like the Chrysler Sebring and the Jeep Patriot impacted the automaker’s sales figures. According to the company, in a bid to make up for the shortfall, Chrysler is boosting production by 50,000 vehicles through the end of the year.

Elsewhere, Volkswagen AG reported U.S. sales of 24,823 units, up 11.4 percent from its August 2008 numbers. Subaru of America posted a 52 percent hike in sales to 28,683 units, as sales of its popular Forester marque rose to 11,870, up from 6,763 in the year-ago period.

Honda Motor Co. grew its American sales 9.9 percent to 161,439 vehicles, and like other automakers, the company credited Clunkers for the boost. (The Honda Civic was the second-most popular vehicle purchased under the program.) Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., reported August sales of 225,088 units, an increase of 10.5 percent, while Hyundai Motor America said sales rose 47 percent to 60,467.

German automaker Daimler AG said its stateside auto sales dropped 10.5 percent, to 18,734 vehicles. Sales at Mercedes-Benz USA fell 7.5 percent to 17,112 vehicles, marking the unit’s best monthly sales performance since the year began.

All told, U.S. sales were in excess of 14 million units in August, making it the busiest month of 2009.

Media outlets are hoping the August upturn may lead to an increase in ad spend at the major automotive companies. In the first half of 2009, auto spend plummeted 31.4 percent to $3.68 billion, down from $5.36 billion in the year-ago period. Despite the decrease, auto ad spending remained the largest product category in the period, per Nielsen data.

GM earlier this month indicated it would up its media spend in 2010 in a bid to buttress its four remaining brands. The automaker, which emerged from bankruptcy in July, spent $2.11 billion on measured media last year, a 14.9 percent decline, per Nielsen.

Chrysler invested $840 million in advertising a year ago. The automaker has invited outside agencies to pitch creative ideas for a fourth-quarter campaign, with lead agency BBDO Detroit onboard to help with the search.

Ford spent $1.42 billion on ads in 2008, down 28.5 percent versus the prior-year allotment.