2020 Ford Escape | Photo by Boris Ladwig

The Ford Escape lost ground to all three major competitors in the small SUV segment in the first quarter, reinforcing the importance of the vehicle’s redesign, which the company revealed Tuesday.

Ford said Thursday that it sold 60,702 Escapes in the first quarter, down nearly 10% from a year earlier, and trailing each of its primary competitors — Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox — by more than 20,000 units.

The new leader in the segment, the Equinox, found 88,500 new buyers for the first three months of the year, up 7.4% compared with the first quarter of 2018. Sales for the CR-V, too, increased, though sales fell 8.4% for the RAV4, last year’s market leader.

Sources: the companies | Graphic by Boris Ladwig

The Escape was Ford’s second-biggest seller last year, after the F-Series truck, and Ford expects the segment to get even more crowded. At the same time, the importance of SUV sales for Ford is increasing as it is abandoning production of essentially all cars.

The company is in the process of moving 550 of 4,600 workers from Louisville Assembly Plant, which makes the Escape, to the Kentucky Truck Plant, which employs nearly 8,000 and makes the Super Duty truck, the Ford Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator.

The two big SUVs saw their sales spike last year, and demand is still rising: The company sold nearly 4,500 Navigators from January through March, up 10% from a year earlier. The Expedition found 21,773 new buyers, up nearly 62%.

Ford’s overall sales in the first quarter, at 590,249 vehicles, were down 1.6% from a year ago — though three competitors, Toyota, FiatChrysler and General Motors reported even larger declines, of at least 5%. Honda posted a 2% sales increase. Among those five, Ford remains the second-most popular automaker, after General Motors.

While Ford’s overall vehicle sales declined in the first quarter, demand for the F-Series truck remained strong, rising 0.2%, to 214,611 units. Ford said that combined sales of the F-150 and Super Duty “outstripped our nearest competitor by 94,585 trucks, which is 15,939 higher than this point last year.”

Ford said it also continued to benefit from customers increasingly choosing high-end versions of the trucks and spending extra on the latest technologies. The automaker said that while incentive spending for the F-Series in the first quarter was the lowest among major full-size pickups, the F-Series’ average transaction price was $47,454. That’s about $19,000 higher than the F-150’s starting price and about $14,000 above the starting price of the Super Duty.

Boris Ladwig
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.