Ford posted a healthy 5.3% sales increase in the U.S. in July to 207,408 units, but officials spend much of the time in a conference call with reporters and analysts answering questions about whether aggressive incentives are what is driving results.

Erich Merkle, Ford’s top U.S. sales analyst, downplays suggestions incentives deserve most of the credit, noting although overall spending is up $200 per unit compared with like-2013, average transaction prices rose $800.

“What that would likely imply is there may be a richer mix out there for some of the products,” he says. “The utility segment is doing well with tremendous pricing power, but some segments, like cars, demand is weaning, because the market is shifting toward utilities, particularly small utilities.”

Passenger vehicles have fallen into a negative-pricing environment, with ATPs down $100 vs. year-ago, Merkle says. But ATPs for utilities are up $300, while pricing in the fullsize pickup segment is up $3,000.

Ford’s incentive spend for July rose $400 from last year and $175 from June. ATPs dipped about $170, but most of that reduction came from having to incentivize cars to keep pace with the rest of the industry.

“It’s very competitive in the car segment, and we’re not any different,” Merkle says. “We have to compete.”

Fusion ATPs slid $1,000 from year-ago, but still remain at the upper level of the industry pricing band, he says. Fusion deliveries in July jumped 12.1% to 23,942, marking the car’s all-time monthly sales record.

“Fusion retail sales were up in every region of the country,” says John Felice, Ford vice president-U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service. “In the West, (retail deliveries) were up 24%, and in markets such as California they were up 26%, while in Seattle they were up 34%. Fusion continues to drive sales and conquests.”

Despite flat incentive spends, Escape sales rose 14.2%, while Explorer and Expedition SUV deliveries soared 29.7% and 53.1%, respectively.

Felice says the shift away from cars to SUVs likely is the result of customers taking advantage of the rising fuel economy of utility vehicles.

Ford F-Series sales in July were up a scant 0.33% compared with like-2013 to 59,181. The flat sales result from carefully managed F-150 inventory as Ford makes the transition from the current model to the all-new aluminum-intensive ’15 version debuting later this year.

“F-Series availability has tempered the sales pace, but we continue to see healthy demand,” Felice says.

While many of Ford’s top volume products recorded a solid July, some models weighed down the overall sale results. Edge deliveries toppled 21.8% to 8,564, while Flex sales crashed 32.2% to only 1,895 units.

Merkle does not address the poor performance of individual models, but notes Ford’s overall July sales were tempered by an effort to reduce rental-fleet deliveries.

In July, Ford’s overall fleet deliveries accounted for 24% of total sales, but just 4% of total deliveries were to daily rental companies. In comparison, in July 2013, total fleet sales were 22%, with 5% of total deliveries to rentals.

The Lincoln luxury division enjoyed a solid month, with July deliveries rising 9.3%. Sales of some key models declined, however, with the MKZ midsize sedan off 4.9% to 2,776 units, and the MKS fullsize sedan plunging 50.9% to 530.

Felice says Lincoln is in the early stages of its revival, and points to the 1,534 deliveries of the all-new MKC small CUV in July as a positive sign. The MKC remains in ramp-up mode with limited availability on dealer lots, and its marketing campaign is not scheduled to launch for another month.

“Early indications are the MKC is going to meet or exceed expectations,” he says. “Dealers are excited about more stock because it is turning in just 11 days.”

Ford ended July with 613,000 light vehicles in inventory, including 126,000 utility vehicles, 312,000 trucks and 175,000 cars, equating to 75 days’ supply overall.

bpope@wardsauto.com