Sales by Ford’s Lincoln luxury division slid 21.4% in January, compared with year-ago, to 4,191 units, but the auto maker has high hopes for the brand with the upcoming all-new ’13 MKZ midsize sedan.

Deliveries of the MKZ are trickling in to showrooms. Inventory won’t reach Ford’s desired level until early April because of the brand’s new quality-assurance process, says Ken Czubay, vice president-U.S. sales and marketing.

“We’ve instituted a higher level of quality-check process on all MKZs that they will go through before (being) shipped,” he says today in a conference call with analysts and reporters to discuss January sales results. “It’s slowing shipments, but it’s the right action to take for the reinvented Lincoln brand.”

Czubay declines to say whether the quality checks are the result of numerous recalls affecting the recently launched all-new Ford Fusion midsize sedan and Escape cross/utility vehicle. Rather, he says the checks are to meet both the expectations of discerning luxury consumers and the high level of quality offered by competitors.

Quality checks take place post-production, Czubay says, and include inspecting the alignment of trim pieces, the consistency of paint and the stitching on interior components. “The quality program was always part of the plan that we would have special rigor with MKZ and all subsequent Lincoln products.”

Lessons learned from the quality-check program will be applied to Ford vehicles, he says, noting the auto maker is “a learning organization.”

The Ford brand enjoyed a robust January, up 21.6% on a daily basis over year-ago to 163,329 units, according to WardsAuto data. The monthly tally, the auto maker’s best performance since a 23.3% gain in October 2010, was enough to propel Ford past Toyota, which delivered 157,725 vehicles in January.

Ford saw strong results in the small- and midsize-car segments, as well as fullsize pickups. Deliveries of the Focus C-car and Fiesta B-car rose 7.7% and 17.4%, respectively, marking the first time in months sales of both small cars grew at the same time.

Czubay says the two cars benefited from strong inventory levels in January. “Fiesta has been fortunate. We’ve been able to put extra stock into dealers,” he says. “Ford had its best January small-car month since 2000.”

The Fusion, which has reached full-inventory levels following the recent recalls, posted a 57.9% hike in January, compared with year-ago, to 22,399 units, despite increased competition in the midsize-sedan market from a slew of new offerings.

“Strong stock and fast turns equal record (Fusion) sales,” Czubay says. “January Fusion sales surpassed last January and broke (the record) set in 2011.”

Fusion demand was particularly strong in California, traditionally a weak market for the Detroit auto makers, with sales there more than doubling from prior-year and setting a sales record for the month, he says.

F-Series pickup deliveries in January climbed 16.5% from year-ago to 44,297 units, marking the 18th consecutive monthly sales increase.

The F-Series is expected to face formidable competition from General Motors’ recently launched all-new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra fullsize pickups. A new F-Series is not scheduled to launch until later next year, prompting speculation the new GM offerings will lure Ford buyers.

Czubay says he is not concerned, noting the F-Series is not ready to concede its top position in the segment. “For decades, Ford has dominated the pickup market, and we’re absolutely committed to continue that. Nothing on the horizon will disrupt that mission.”

Ford ended the month with 567,000 units in stock, including 152,000 utility vehicles, 239,000 trucks and 176,000 cars, equating to an 89 days’ supply.

bpope@wardsauto.com