Post-Strike Resurgence: Big 3’s Q1 Performance Highlights Path to Innovation and Growth

Since the breakthrough of the UAW strike against Detroit’s Big 3; Ford, Stellantis, and GM sales from the first quarter are now signed, sealed, and delivered showcasing how the automotive industry has fared. 

Amidst the anticipation, Ford Motor Co. has emerged with a noteworthy performance, registering a 6.8% increase in U.S. sales compared to the same period last year. This growth comes at a time when the auto industry has been navigating through a sea of challenges, including a lukewarm response to electric vehicles (EVs) than initially anticipated. 

Despite the slower-than-expected embrace of EVs, Ford’s commitment to diversifying its offerings has not gone unnoticed. In a significant leap forward, EV sales for the company surged by 86% in the initial three months of the year, accounting for 4% of Ford’s total sales mix. This translates to 20,223 electric vehicles out of a total of 508,083 units delivered to customers from January through March. Adding another feather to Ford’s cap, the quarter also witnessed the highest sales ever for its hybrid vehicles, underscoring the growing consumer interest in more sustainable and fuel-efficient driving options. 

This blend of traditional and innovative approaches in Ford’s strategy reflects a broader trend in the automotive industry, where adaptability and responsiveness to changing market dynamics are key to staying ahead. As our community keeps a keen eye on these developments, it’s clear that the journey toward more sustainable transportation is gaining momentum, with Ford leading the charge in several aspects. 

Even though the Mustang Mach-E SUV found itself out of the running for the federal government’s $7,500 clean-vehicle tax credit at the year’s start, its sales still soared by an impressive 77%. A strategic price cut in February, coupled with a clever move by Ford Credit to pass a tax credit onto those opting for leases, and a few other enticing incentives, really gave the Mach-E a nice boost. 

Although a burst joy and celebration are oozing over in Ford’s front yard, Stellantis story of redemption since the strike isn’t as glorious when the numbers discussion comes into play. Stellantis NV found the first quarter a bit rough, with sales taking a 10% dip compared to the same stretch last year. The brands feeling the brunt of this downturn were Ram and Dodge, each seeing notable slides in their numbers. 

This global car maker, home to familiar names like Chrysler, Jeep, Fiat, and Alfa Romeo in the U.S. market, reported moving 332,540 vehicles off the lot in the first three months of the year, down from 368,327 in the previous year. But it wasn’t all cloudy skies; Jeep managed to carve out a silver lining with a 2% increase in sales, thanks in part to its hit lineup of plug-in hybrids. Chrysler also caught a break, with its Pacifica minivan driving a 9% boost in sales. 

Jeep’s horizon looks particularly bright as it gears up to roll out its first fully electric vehicle, the Jeep Wagoneer S, in the U.S. come the next quarter. Jason Stoicevich, the head honcho for Stellantis U.S. sales, was upbeat, noting, “As Jeep prepares to deliver its first fully electric vehicle, the Jeep Wagoneer S, in the U.S. in the second quarter, the brand saw significant growth across its portfolio in Q1, and the Jeep Wrangler 4xe and the Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe are currently ranked the No. 1 and No. 2 best-selling hybrids in the country. 2024 will be a transformative year for the company and our consumers, and our focus and commitment remain on delivering best-in-class products across Stellantis’ diverse portfolio.” 

Stellantis’ dip stands out, especially when most car makers are toasting to year-over-year sales jumps this week. That said, they’re not alone in the slump; General Motors, Kia, and Tesla also faced their own setbacks, with GM noting a slight 1.5% fall in sales to 594,233 vehicles for the quarter. 

Reflecting on the broader picture, Stellantis saw a 9% sales decrease in the first quarter of 2023, rounding off the year with just a 1% dip in the U.S. market compared to 2022. Despite the hurdles, it seems there’s still a lot of road left to travel and plenty of opportunities for a comeback. 

On another front, Ford had to hit pause on shipping its F-150 Lightning pickup back in February, taking extra time for a thorough quality check. But the gears are expected to start moving again this month, and surprisingly, this hiccup didn’t dampen the Lightning’s sales, which electrified with an 80% jump. Despite being the nation’s favorite electric truck, Ford decided to scale back production a tad, trimming down to one shift at its Dearborn Electric Vehicle Center, aiming to better match production with the current demand. And with an eye on the market, Ford upped the prices for most of its ’24 Lightning models at the start of the year. 

The path to EV adoption isn’t without its bumps; concerns over affordability, charging infrastructure, speed, and grid reliability have some consumers hitting the brakes on going electric. In response, Ford is steering some attention back to its hybrid and traditional internal combustion engine offerings, particularly from the Ford Blue lineup. This pivot seems to be paying off, with hybrid sales hitting a new high of 28,421 units, a 42% increase, and the company is gearing up to ship more of the F-150 hybrid models. But it’s the conventional ICE vehicles that continue to be Ford’s bread and butter, marking a 2.6% uptick in sales. However, the beloved F-Series trucks, Lightning included, saw a 10% dip. The refreshed ‘24 models began rolling out to customers at the end of February, following a detailed quality check that filled lots around Metro Detroit with these trucks as production got back on track. Meanwhile, sales of heavy trucks experienced a 19% downturn. 

The scene at the dealerships also saw some shifts, with the new ‘24 Ranger midsize truck making its debut last quarter. Sales took an 83% dive as Ford worked on restocking after the UAW strike last fall, which significantly impacted its Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne – the same plant that rolls out the Bronco SUV, which also experienced a 26% sales drop. In a strategic move, hundreds of workers from the Lightning plant are transitioning to the Wayne facility to support the addition of a third crew, signaling a ramp-up in production. 

The Maverick compact truck really revved up this quarter, with sales leaping an impressive 82%. Part of this surge included the Maverick Hybrid, which itself saw a healthy 77% increase in sales. 

It was a record-breaking quarter for SUVs across the board. The Explorer edged up with a modest increase of less than 1%, while the Expedition enjoyed a more robust 11% climb. And there’s more excitement on the horizon with planned updates for these models and their Lincoln counterparts expected later this year. Bronco Sport notched a 5.7% increase, the Escape surged by 73%, and the Edge matched that with a 73% rise as well. 

Amidst this flurry of activity, Ford Blue President Andrew Frick expressed optimism, stating, “With all of the launches, we’re in a strong position to capitalize and grow as we move through 2024. From gas engines to hybrids to electric vehicles, we offer our customers more choices.” 

However, it wasn’t all high-flying numbers; the iconic Mustang, celebrating its 60th anniversary and holding the title of the last gas-powered muscle car standing, experienced a slight downturn of 6.8%. 

The Lincoln luxury brand, on the other hand, had a lot to cheer about with a nearly 32% uptick in sales. Leading the charge was the all-new ‘24 Nautilus, which enjoyed a 68% sales boost. The Corsair and Aviator also performed well, with sales up 56% and 19% respectively, though the Navigator faced a 25% decline. 

On the commercial front, Ford’s Transit vans marked their 10th anniversary with a 25% increase in sales. The all-electric E-Transit vans outpaced them all, skyrocketing by 148%. 

Meanwhile, just across town, General Motors Co. faced a bit of a headwind, with first-quarter sales dipping 1.5%, attributed to a downturn in fleet sales. 

Stellantis is shining a spotlight on its plug-in hybrid sales this quarter, boasting an impressive 82% surge. The automaker is proud to have four of its models — the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe, Dodge Hornet R/T, and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid — rank among the top five best-selling hybrids in the nation as of the previous year. Eager to keep the momentum, Stellantis is gearing up to introduce eight fully battery-powered vehicles in the United States by the close of 2024. 

Jeep is riding a wave of success, fueled by robust sales of its Compass, Renegade, Wagoneer, and Grand Wagoneer models. Meanwhile, the ever-popular Grand Cherokee and Wrangler models held their ground, maintaining steady sales. On the flip side, Ram faced a tougher climb with significant sales dips, including its ProMaster vans, though it’s looking to revitalize interest with the 2025 Ram 1500 hitting dealership floors now. Dodge felt a bit of a pinch with declining sales of its Charger and Challenger — both of which ceased production last year — as well as the Durango SUV. However, there’s a spark of excitement on the horizon with the upcoming release of an all-new electrified Charger. 

As the dust settles from the UAW strike against Detroit’s Big 3, the first quarter sales reports paint a vivid picture of the current landscape of the automotive industry. Amidst these ups and downs, the drive towards electrification and innovation continues unabated. the post-strike period reveals an industry in flux, with companies like Ford leveraging innovation to gain momentum, while others like Stellantis and GM navigate challenges with an eye towards future opportunities. The landscape is ripe with potential for growth, transformation, and a gradual shift towards a more sustainable automotive future, making it an exciting time for both manufacturers and consumers alike. 

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