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Ford Says Sales Holding Steady

Ford Motor Co. said Tuesday U.S. sales held steady in November as buyers snapped up fuel-efficient cars and crossovers.

Ford's sales were essentially flat compared to last November, at 122,846. But sales of crossovers rose 26 percent and sales of cars rose 14 percent. Trucks and SUVs saw double-digit declines. Other automakers are reporting sales on Tuesday.

Small monthly auto sales increases are likely as the U.S. economy continues its slow improvement, but larger auto sales gains will not happen until the unemployment rate drops substantially, and people feel confident spending money on big-ticket items, said Martin Zimmerman, a former Ford Motor Co. chief economist who now teaches at the University of Michigan.

The U.S. jobless rate hit 10.2 percent in October, a 26-year high, and Zimmerman said people are holding onto their vehicles until the rate begins to drop.

Ford said its hybrid sales increased 73 percent, to 2,361, as buyers gravitated toward gas sippers. At about $2.65 per gallon, regular gasoline is up around 50 cents over November of last year.

The Ford Fusion sedan, which leads the mid-size category in fuel-efficiency at 34 miles per gallon, posted a 54-percent increase from last November, shattering its previous record for full-year sales.

Automakers were hoping for signs of an economic recovery in November's sales. U.S. sales were expected to rise compared with last November, when they fell to a 26-year low of 743,606, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. Sales tumbled even lower in January and February before climbing steadily through the spring and summer.

Although the factors that drove down last November's auto sales, such as frozen credit and the stock market collapse, have abated, auto sales will not lead the economy out of recession, Zimmerman said.

"I think we have to see more of a coincident rise in the level of economic activity," he said. "I think it's a ways away. It's coming. It's not here yet."

Ford showed some optimism for the coming year, increasing first-quarter production plans by 58 percent to 550,000 vehicles. Its fourth-quarter production plan is unchanged.

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