Ford Motor Co. posted a 2.3 percent May sales gain -- and outsold crosstown rival General Motors for the first time since March 2016 -- thanks to an increase in fleet sales.
Ford's sales to daily rental companies jumped 2.7 percentage points, representing 15.7 percent of its total May sales. Its total fleet sales rose 8.4 percent, representing 34.4 percent of sales.
That helped Ford break a four-month long sales skid, despite retail sales falling 0.8 percent.
"It's pure timing related," Mark LaNeve, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said about the fleet spike. "It's very dependent on a combination of when our customers want the vehicles, and when we can build them."
Through the first half of the year, Ford faced tough year-ago comparisons, when its fleet sales were front-loaded. The automaker still expects its full-year fleet sales, which are less profitable than retail sales, to be flat or down 1 percent compared to 2016.
"We're right where we need to be," Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle said.
Ford's truck sales jumped 9.4 percent while its SUV sales rose 4.3 percent. Car sales fell 10 percent.
"May marked a standout month for Ford brand SUVs, with a May record 74,910 SUVs sold," LaNeve said in a statement. "Plus, we continued to see strong F-series performance, with sales and share rising this year, along with average transaction pricing. In May, overall F-series sales were up double digits and transaction prices grew $3,300 per truck."
LaNeve said F-series incentives fell $500 compared to a year ago.
Sales of the Ford Explorer rose 21 percent for the crossover's best May in 13 years, Ford said. Expedition sales rose 14 percent and Edge sales jumped 11 percent.
Ford's overall incentive spending was flat, while the industry was up $310, representing 10.5 percent of overall industry vehicle pricing, LaNeve said.
"We didn't see really anything unusual, in fact it was pretty tempered," he said.
Ford outsold GM 240,250 to 237,364. LaNeve said that's because of the increase in fleet sales, and that the company doesn't pay much attention to the rivalry.
"Feels good for about 10 seconds, but we're moving on to June," he said.