The polar vortex that gripped much of the country in January put the deep freeze on Ford’s U.S. sales, as deliveries plunged 7.4% vs. year-ago to 150,541 light vehicles.

John Felice, vice president-U.S. marketing, sales and service, says the monthly sales pattern fluctuated with weather conditions.

“If you look at the month and our overall performance, it correlated with the weather,” he tells analysts and journalists. “It was a slow start, and as (weather) improved we saw bounce-back, and in the last week we saw another arctic blast and saw the (sales) tempo correlate to that.”

The West Coast was immune to the severe weather, and sales there were up double digits throughout the month, while Ford’s Midwest and Central regions were down about 10%, Felice says.

The harsh weather also took its toll on fleet sales, which were down 14%, accounting for 26% of the automaker’s total deliveries. Last January, fleet deliveries comprised 28% of Ford’s overall sales.

Felice says fleet suffered because factories were unable to fill orders due to the weather. He expects the orders to be filled as the first quarter progresses.

Ford’s top-selling vehicles were not immune to the winter blast, including the F-Series pickup, which saw flat sales in January after months of increases. 

Weather again was a factor in F-Series’ slow month, but sales are expected to bounce back throughout the remainder of the year, Felice says.

“We’re very bullish on pickups, with housing and everything else very strong,” he says.

Fiesta B-car and Escape small-CUV deliveries fell 2.8% and 2.4%, respectively, while the Focus C-car posted a 25.7% plummet.

Some of the sales drop was attributed to the weather, but the car also saw some sales cannibalized by the Ford Fusion midsize sedan, which had a strong retail month despite a 7.5% overall decline.

“Even though Fusion was down it had an excellent month,” says Erich Merkle, Ford’s top U.S. sales analyst. “We estimate it’s the highest retail market share (for the Fusion) we’ve ever seen. It had a little impact on Focus, but Focus is a smaller car and it is January and the weather is not conducive (to small-car demand).”

Only a handful of vehicles enjoyed year-over-year sales gains in January, including the Ford Mustang, up 7.5% and the Ford Flex, which posted a 2.1% increase.

The other gainers were the Lincoln MKZ and MKX, which were up 368.4% and 35.5%, respectively.

Despite the MKZ’s triple-digit gain, Felice warns not to read too much into it, noting last January supplies were limited as the all-new model was being launched.

“Lincoln still has a long way to go,” he says. “As a luxury brand the journey is measured in years, not months. But we’re pleased with the performance in January.”

Ford ended January with 659,000 light vehicles in inventory, including 177,000 utility vehicles, 248,000 trucks and 234,000 cars, equating to 111 days’ supply overall.

bpope@wardsauto.com