2018 Lincoln Navigator. | Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

Sales of Ford’s big SUVs, including the Louisville-made Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, continued to spike in November, while sales of smaller SUVs, including the Louisville-made Escape, continued their slide.

The new data help explain why Ford announced last week that it plans to move 500 full-time production workers from the Louisville Assembly Plant, which primarily makes the Escape, to Kentucky Truck Plant, which primarily makes the Super Duty truck, but also the Explorer and Navigator.

Ford said Monday that it sold 1,566 Navigators in November, up 27.3 percent from November 2017, and 4,264 Expeditions, up 7.9 percent. Meanwhile, demand for the Escape fell 14.3 percent, to 21,516.

For the year, demand for the Expedition is up 4.3 percent, while Navigator sales have soared 73.7 percent. It’s a different story for the Escape, which has seen demand fall 10.6 percent this year.

Erich Merkle

Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle told Insider that Escape sales are down in part because the vehicle is approaching the end of its model cycle. The automaker is expected to introduce a major overhaul for the 2020 model.

Merkle told Insider via email that Escape sales also are being lowered because the company is more stingy with its leasing and incentive offers.

“We aren’t going to over-incentivize or get overly aggressive on leasing of the outgoing model, as it hurts the brand long-term,” he said.

The sales trend may not be all bad news for Ford, because Escape has a much lower price — and likely profit margin — than its larger cousins. The Escape starts at about $24,000. The Expedition costs about twice as much, and the Navigator about three times as much.

Ford reiterated Monday that many buyers are choosing higher-end versions of the SUVs, which boosts sales prices, and profits. For example, about 60 percent of Expeditions sold were Platinum and Limited Edition models, which pushed the average transaction price to $61,500, up $7,700 from a year ago.

Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker said sales trends are prompting Ford to cut a shift at Louisville Assembly Plant and to move about 500 full-time employees to the nearby Kentucky Truck Plant to lift production of the Navigator and Expedition by 20 percent.

“That’s where the consumer demand is,” Felker told Insider.

Photo by Boris Ladwig

The moves are expected to occur in spring. LAP, on Fern Valley Road, south of the Louisville airport, employs about 4,600, while KTP, about a half-hour’s drive away on Chamberlain Lane, in eastern Louisville, has about 8,000 employees.

Todd Dunn, president of United Auto Workers Local 862, which represents hourly workers at both plants, said demand for smaller SUVs is declining in general, but people also are looking at transportation differently because of the increasing popularity of ride sharing and on-demand transportation service providers such as Uber and Lyft.

While higher sales for the Expedition and Navigator, up a combined 650, aren’t enough to make up for the demand decline for the Escape, down nearly 4,000, Dunn told Insider that the union’s goal “is to keep everyone employed.”

Once the new Escape model is revealed, and Ford began to more aggressively push sales and lease promotions, the company expects production at LAP to increase, in which case some of the workers may be moved back.

Felker said that near its headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., the company also is moving another 500 workers from its Flat Rock Assembly Plant, which makes the Lincoln Continental and Ford Mustang, to the Livonia, Mich., transmission plant, which makes parts for the F-series truck, Ranger, Expedition and Navigator.

The moves are unrelated to a previously announced $11 billion restructuring plan about which the company has provided few details. That action will involve job cuts across the globe, but primarily in salaried ranks, as part of an effort to cut costs.

Sales for the F-series pickup in November exceeded 70,000 for a record nine months, Ford said. The company doesn’t list sales of the Louisville-made Super Duty separately, but the company has said previously that demand for the work truck have been strong, and consumers generally have chosen higher-end models.

Overall sales for Ford in November declined 6.9 percent. Rival General Motors said in late November that slower sales were prompting it to idle five North American factories and cut about 14,000 jobs. GM no longer announces monthly sales data. Honda and Toyota also reported lower demand, though FiatChrysler said its sales jumped 17 percent in November.

Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.


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