Recalls involving the recently launched ’13 Escape cross/utility vehicle are not to blame for sluggish sales, declining 11.4% in July to 19,415 units, Ford says.

The auto maker blames the downturn on limited supplies and overwhelming demand for the all-new Escape, which underwent a major redesign for the ’13 model year.

Ken Czubay, Ford vice president-U.S. marketing, says in a conference call with analysts and reporters today the Escape is the fastest-turning vehicle on dealer lots and that most consumers are opting for well-equipped models.

“Recalls have not changed the huge consumer interest (for Escape),” he says, noting the vehicle is in the “highest demand relative to inventory” compared with other Ford vehicles. “We’re ramping up inventory and doing fine with (the) Escape.”

About 50% of Escapes sold in July were the previous-generation model, Ford says.

Among consumers purchasing the ’13 model, 51% chose the automated liftgate feature that activates with a kicking motion under the rear bumper; 41% selected the panoramic roof option; and 49% purchased the high-end SEL and Titanium trim levels.

“When we put content on a vehicle, that’s where consumers are going,” Czubay says. “We’re pleased with our plan (for the Escape).”

In addition to the recalls on the new model, one involving ill-fitting mats and another for a faulty fuel line, several thousand units were damaged in a hailstorm in a holding lot at the Louisville, KY, assembly plant where the ’13 Escape is produced.

Czubay says the damaged units contributed to a “little bit of a shortfall” on Escape inventory, adding that none of the affected vehicles will be sold to the public.

Ford’s overall sales in July rose 3.8%, compared with year-ago, to 170,669 units on a daily selling rate basis. There were 24 selling days this year and 26 in 2011.

Ford, which doesn’t factor in the DSR when compiling its sales figures, reported a 4.0% decline in its total light-vehicle sales last month.

Czubay says the shortfall was due to lower fleet demand, which was expected due to seasonal fluctuations and cash-strapped city and state governments5 holding back on vehicle purchases.

Retail deliveries ticked up 2.0%, while overall fleet sales were down 16% for the month.

Fleets accounted for 27% of Ford’s total sales in July, with 12% going to commercial buyers, 5% to governments and 10% to daily rental.

The Ford Fusion midsize sedan posted its best July sales ever, soaring 27.3% compared with year-ago to 22,160 units. Czubay insists the rise was not due to an increase in incentives as Ford prepares for the all-new ’13 model that arrives in showrooms this fall.

The Ford Focus C-car also enjoyed a solid month, up 19.7% to 16,454. The Fiesta B-car did not fare so well, with deliveries plummeting 16.9% to 4,059. Despite the double-digit drop, Czubay says Fiesta sales are tracking according to Ford’s plan.

Other Ford cars performing well in July were the Mustang and Taurus, up 17.4% and 51.1%, respectively. On the truck side, sales of the F-Series pickup rose 7.4% to 46,501 units, while Explorer SUV deliveries jumped 31.3% to 11,997.

Ford’s Lincoln luxury division suffered a poor month, with most models posting declines. Sales of the Lincoln MKT CUV surged 70.4%, but on just 738 units, while deliveries of the fullsize Navigator SUV slid 1.4% to 525.

The lone bright spot of the Lincoln division was the MKZ midsize sedan, which saw sales rise 30.6% in July to 2,881.

Ford ended the month with 419,000 vehicles in inventory, including 134,000 cars, 188,000 trucks and 97,000 utilities.

bpope@wardsauto.com