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FEBRUARY AUTO SALES LIFT 2012 OUTLOOK

The U.S. auto industry reported a 16% sales jump in
February. In fact, sales were at their fastest pace in four years.
Automakers sold 1,149,396 cars and light trucks last
month. Quoting Autodata Corp, WSJ.com reports the
annualized pace of sales climbed last
month to 15.1 million vehicles, a level the
industry hasn’t seen since February 2008.
Chrysler led the way as sales rose
40% in February to 133,521 vehicles.
Chrysler company truck sales rose 21%
from a year earlier, while car sales more
than doubled.
Despite rising gas prices, Ford trucks
sustained the biggest increase, up 20.6%
from February 2011. Fuel-efficient Ecoboost
engines made up 43% of F-150’s sold to
individual customers. And after several months of year-overyear declines, sales of the Ford Focus more than doubled.
Ford’s Lincoln division recorded a 16% increase.
Meanwhi le, General Motors sales were up 1%.
Chevrolet’s 5.8% gain powered the overall increase, led
by a 10.1% gain from the Cruze compact, a 38.6% increase
from the Suburban SUV and a 30.7% gain for the Express
full-size van. But GM also posted declines in the Buick
and Cadillac divisions.
Toyota and Honda each posted 12% increases as they
continued to rebound from the earthquake in Japan last
March. It was Honda’s first double-digit gain since April and
Toyota’s first since February 2011.
Hyundai Motor Company announced all-time record
February sales of 51,151 units, up 18% versus 2011.
Sonata, Elantra and Accent total sales increases were 11
percent, 12 percent and 29 percent, respectively. Fleet sales
remain at a low eight percent as the focus remains on retail
customers.
Kia also had the brand’s best ever February sales , up
37.3% over the same period in 2011. Kia continues to be
one of the fastest growing car companies in the U.S., and
the February sales total marks the brand’s 18th straight
monthly sales record.
BMW Group, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda and VW
were among companies with gains of 30% or more.
Mitsubishi was the only other automaker to record a decline
(-31%) in sales.

U.S. auto sales jumped 11 percent in January, led by huge gains at Chrysler Group and Volkswagen of America. Best January since 2008

U.S. auto sales jumped 11 percent in January, led by huge gains at Chrysler Group and Volkswagen of America.Automakers sold 913,284 light vehicles for the month, the best January since 2008. The seasonally adjusted annual selling rate was 14.2 million, which matches the cash-for-clunkers selling rate of August 2009.

Toyota Division General Manager Bob Carter said January had “a very healthy” sales pace.

“It’s significant to see 913,000 in January when much of the country typically is in a deep freeze,” he said. “We’re bullish with where the industry is going.”

Most major companies gain

Among the highlights:

— All major players posted sales gains except General Motors, which fell 6 percent from a strong January 2011 that had been buoyed by strong incentives.

— All four GM brands lost ground: Chevrolet was down 1 percent, GMC lost 10 percent, Buick 23 percent and Cadillac 29 percent.

— Chrysler Group volume jumped 44 percent to 101,149 units. The growth was led by Chrysler brand, up 81 percent.

— Hyundai-Kia Automotive gained 20 percent overall: Kia rose 28 percent and Hyundai 15 percent.

— Nissan North America sales increased 10 percent, just under the industry average overall. But after being passed by Hyundai-Kia for the No. 6 U.S. sales position, Nissan’s 79,313 light-vehicle sales gave it a 1,102-unit lead over its South Korean rival to start the year.

— American Honda gained 9 percent in January, its first year-over-year increase since April and a sign that its restocking efforts since the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan and flooding later in the year in Thailand are working.

— Toyota Motor Sales, which also had been slammed by the natural disasters last year, boosted sales 8 percent to 124,540 units. Toyota brand rose 9 percent, offsetting a 5 percent decline at Lexus.

— Ford Motor Co. increased sales 7 percent in January, with Ford division up 8 percent and Lincoln down 8 percent.

Mazda, Subaru sales rise

— Among the smaller players, Volkswagen Group sales soared 40 percent to 36,681 units, led by a 48 percent increase for the VW brand and 20 percent higher sales at Audi.

— Mazda posted an even bigger gain, up 68 percent to 23,996 vehicles.

— Subaru volume rose 21 percent, its second month of growth after a seven-month stretch of declines as it struggled to restock U.S. dealer lots after the natural disasters of last year.

— Daimler AG gained 23 percent, with 23 percent growth at Mercedes-Benz and 39 percent at Smart.

— BMW group sales rose 6 percent overall, with a 21 percent increase at Mini pumping up a more modest 3 percent gain at BMW brand.

— Other European premium brands posted increases: 31 percent for Jaguar Land Rover, 6 percent for Porsche and 4 percent for Volvo.

— Only two small Japanese automakers posted sales declines in January. Mitsubishi’s volume fell 18 percent while Suzuki tumbled 41 percent to 1,505 units.

Odds and ends

— Tough sledding for luxury: A few luxury brands outperformed the industry’s 11 percent rise in January. Land Rover jumped 41 percent, Mercedes-Benz gained 23 percent and Audi 20 percent. But Jaguar, Porsche, Acura and BMW eked out modest unit increases below the industry average. And Lexus fell 5 percent, Lincoln and Infiniti each lost 8 percent, and Cadillac tumbled 29 percent.

— The industry’s shift to greater North American production continues. U.S. sales of vehicles made in the United States, Canada and Mexico were 77.9 percent of total industry volume, up from 76.7 percent last January.

— Oddity: Audi outsold Cadillac in January, 9,354 units to 8,924. Until Cadillac can get its new XTS and ATS sedans into showrooms, it is limited to essentially three models: the CTS sedan and SRX and Escalade SUVs.

— Best-seller surprises: Compared to the 10 best-selling nameplates for 2011, January’s top 10 list has three new names. The Honda Accord and Ford Fusion dropped out, but Honda added the Civic and CR-V. And the Chevrolet Cruze got bumped by its big brother, the Chevy Impala.

— Guess who’s No. 2? One other Top 10 shakeup: The new-generation Toyota Camry, introduced in September, outsold the Chevy Silverado pickup, ousting it from its perennial No. 2 sales position behind the Ford F-series.

— Trucks bucked: January also changed the list of 2011 best-selling trucks. Out: 2011’s No. 7 GMC Sierra and No. 10 Kia Sorento. In: the Jeep Grand Cherokee at No. 7 and Nissan Rogue at No. 9.

— Cars rule in January: Cars outsold light trucks last month, 474,449 to 438,835, a 51.9/49.1 split. A year ago trucks ruled, 413,962 to 405,924, a 50.5/49.5 split.

Watch those comparables

It’s time to readjust expectations based on the most common industry sales measurement: comparing sales to performance the year before.

— Hyundai-Kia and Chrysler are coming off 2011 performances up more than a quarter, so it will take huge months for them to move the needle much this year.

— Both Toyota group and American Honda sales fell 7 percent in 2011, so posting even modest increases will look good this year.

— Sales comparisons also will be easier for Ford and GM this year because the drag of those dead or sold brands has washed out of year-ago numbers. For GM, no more year-ago sales of Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer or Saab models. Ford has no Volvos and only a wisp of Mercury sales on the 2011 blotter.

U.S. auto industry recovering faster than anticipated; Automakers headed toward best annual performance in three years

The U.S. auto industry is seeing demand recover faster than anticipated, with carmakers headed toward their best annual performance in three years at sales of 12.8 million vehicles.

Consumers entered this year’s final month demanding models ranging from big pickups to luxury sedans to fuel-sipping hybrids after pushing November’s sales to the fastest monthly pace since the government’s “cash for clunkers” trade-in program in August 2009. General Motors Co. (GM) and Chrysler Group LLC, two years removed from bankruptcy, have been taking share from disaster-stricken Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.

U.S. buyers are replacing their cars after delaying new- vehicle purchases as long as possible, and they are snapping up F-Series pickups and Prius hybrids as consumer confidence in the economy jumps. That means the automakers haven’t had to resort to fire-sale prices to goose demand.

“The industry has managed production levels to where demand was this year and didn’t get ahead of itself,” said Jeff Schuster, a Troy, Michigan-based analyst for LMC Automotive. “With inventory now being replenished, it’s not a situation where we’re seeing too much production or seeing heavy incentive use.”

Spending on marketing promotions averaged less than $2,700 a vehicle throughout the industry, down about $74 from a year ago, according to LMC and J.D. Power & Associates.

Consumer confidence surged in November by the most in more than eight years, and the portion of consumers planning to buy a new vehicle within six months climbed to the highest since April, data from The Conference Board showed Nov. 29.

The average age of cars and light trucks on the road today has risen to 10.6 years old, Jenny Lin, Ford’s senior U.S. economist, said on a Dec. 1 conference call.

“We are going to see more and more of this pent-up demand realized,” Lin told analysts and reporters.

She cited declining gasoline prices for providing “relief” to consumers, who responded with purchases of sport- utility vehicles and pickups. Sales of Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford’s SUVs climbed 29 percent and F-Series trucks increased 24 percent.

GM’s deliveries of Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups surged 34 percent and 22 percent, respectively, and Chrysler’s Jeep brand sales soared 50 percent. The average price for unleaded gasoline has dropped 71 cents, or 18 percent, to $3.28 a gallon on Dec. 3 from its peak this year on May 4, according to AAA, the nation’s largest motoring group.

Consumer demand was broad-based, as Toyota (7203) and Honda boosted deliveries of smaller vehicles, making up for production lost after March 11’s tsunami and earthquake inJapan and more recent floods in Thailand disrupted their supply chains.

Toyota, Asia’s largest automaker, reported a 49 percent increase in sales of Prius hybrid models, including its new wagon variant. Deliveries of its redesigned Camry sedan climbed 13 percent to 23,440, securing its position as the top-selling car line ahead of Nissan Motor Co.’s Altima and the Ford Fusion. Toyota slashed discounts on cars by 32 percent last month, according to researcher Autodata Corp.

Honda, the only automaker among the 10 largest that didn’t have a companywide U.S. sales increase for November, still managed to boost deliveries of Civic cars by 3.4 percent. That’s the first increase since April for the Tokyo-based automaker’s top-selling model.

Among luxury brands, Daimler AG (DAI)’s November deliveries jumped 47 percent, as the brand’s year-to-date sales closed to within 1,600 of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW)’s BMW line. The two German brands are vying to replace Toyota’s Lexus, the annual luxury champ for the last 11 years, which also lost production to the March disasters.

Industry sales accelerated to a 13.6 million seasonally adjusted annualized rate, according toWoodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata. The pace exceeded the 13.4 million average estimate of 14 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

“The recovery is showing a little bit more resiliency than what people feared,” Paul Ballew, chief economist for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., said in a Dec. 1 phone interview. “Vehicle sales are inching their way back up to 14-, and then eventually 15- and 16-million units.”

If December matches November’s 14 percent increase in industrywide deliveries, auto sales will finish the year at 12.8 million cars and light trucks. That would exceed the 12.7 million sales total that was the average estimate of 18 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg in August.

Jefferies Inc., IHS Automotive and TrueCar.com are now considering increases to their estimates for 2012 deliveries, according to analysts at the three firms.

Auto sales may total 13.5 million light vehicles next year, the average of 14 estimates compiled by Bloomberg. The industry delivered 11.6 million cars and light trucks last year, up from a 27-year low of 10.4 million in 2009.

The seasonally adjusted annualized rate for auto sales “appears to be building to a 2011 exit run-rate close to 14 million without a full Japanese supply recovery and bad economic news cycle,” Adam Jonas, a New York-based analyst for Morgan Stanley, wrote in a Dec. 1 research note. The momentum “bodes well for 2012,” he said.

J.D. Power Reports: September New-Vehicle Retail Selling Rate Shows Marked Improvement From August

 

 Sept. 22, 2011  — New-vehicle retail sales for September continue to improve, with the selling rate expected to be much stronger than in August, according to J.D. Power and Associates, which gathers real-time transaction data from more than 8,900 retail franchisees throughout the United States.

Retail Light-Vehicle Sales
September new-vehicle retail sales are projected to come in at 842,400 units, which represents a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 10.3 million units. This marks the first time the retail selling rate would be above 10 million units since the 10.8 million-unit rate in April. Retail transactions are the most accurate measurement of true underlying consumer demand for new vehicles.
“Coming off a solid Labor Day sale, retail sales exhibited unexpected strength in the second week of September, as the recovering inventory levels have helped to bring buyers back into the market,” said Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates. “However, incentive levels remain flat compared with August and the economy remains a concern, so the sales pace in the second half of the month is expected to give back some of the gains.”
Total Light-Vehicle Sales
Total light-vehicle sales in September are expected to come in at 1,038,700 units, which is 9 percent higher than in September 2010. Fleet sales are expected to be down 1 percent compared with last September, but will account for 19 percent of total sales.

Sales Outlook
Given the relative strength of September, J.D. Power is maintaining its forecast for light-vehicle sales in 2011 and 2012. Total light-vehicle sales for 2011 are expected to come in at 12.6 million units, a 9 percent increase from 2010. Retail light-vehicle sales are forecasted at 10.2 million units for 2011, an increase of 11 percent from 2010.
For 2012, the outlook for total light-vehicle sales remains at 14.1 million units and retail light-vehicle sales are at 11.5 million units. However, there is a high level of uncertainty that remains.
“The uncertain global environment, specifically the debt troubles in Europe, continue to be the major source of downside risk in the U.S. economy and automotive markets,” said John Humphrey, senior vice president of automotive operations at J.D. Power and Associates. “Until a level of stability is reached globally and consumer confidence is returned, the U.S. automotive selling pace is not expected to return to pre-recession levels.”
North American Production
Through August 2011, light-vehicle production in North America has increased to 8.5 million units, up 8 percent from the same period in 2010. The Detroit 3 OEMs have increased production by 16 percent year-to-date, while the Japanese manufacturers have lost 8 percent—due to the parts shortages from the earthquake in Japan back in March. European OEMs are up 38 percent for the same period, as a result of added production of the BMW X3 and Volkswagen Passat in North America, as well as strong demand for the new Volkswagen Jetta.
Vehicle inventory maintained a 49-day supply at the beginning of September, unchanged from August. Car inventory remained at the same 40-day level as it was in the previous month, while truck supply edged down by one day to 57 days. With stronger production levels and imported shipments returning, inventory is improving—although several manufacturers continue to have limited supply availability: Hyundai/Kia with a 21 days’ supply (was 19 days in August), Honda with a 32 days’ supply (previously 28 days), and BMW at 33 days’ supply (previously 30 days).
The 2011 North American production outlook remains on track for 12.9 million units, an increase of 9 percent from 2010. Fourth-quarter 2011 production output is expected to reach 3.3 million vehicles, which is an increase of 11 percent from the same quarter in 2010.
“Continued inventory stock replenishment and Japanese OEM recovery is responsible for the large year-over-year increase relative to the lower level of recovery in vehicle demand,” said Schuster. “As inventory normalizes into 2012, growth in production levels is expected to slow to a pace more consistent with sales.”

AUGUST U.S. AUTO SALES: GM, Ford, Chrysler post double-digit U.S. sales gains

DETROIT — The Detroit 3 posted double-digit U.S. sales gains in August in the face of forecasts that industry demand would cool.

General Motors had an 18 percent gain and Ford Motor Co. was up 11 percent — their biggest jumps since April. Chrysler Group, with a 28 percent rise, now has had increases of 20 percent or more in six of the year’s first eight months.

Volkswagen brand was up 10 percent and Nissan North America rose 19 percent, despite a drop at Infiniti.

American Honda and Toyota Motor Sales, which have dragged down the industry since May because of vehicle shortages stemming from the March earthquake in Japan, have yet to report. Subaru, which has also been crimped by tight supplies, posted a 6 percent decline, its fourth straight monthly drop.

Analysts said August, like the past few months, would fall short of the sales pace set at the start of the year. They cited a decline in consumer confidence and dimming prospects for strong economic growth. And Hurricane Irene paralyzed most of the Eastern seaboard last weekend, leaving flooding and power outages in its wake.

‘Pent-up demand’

“There is still a lot of pent-up demand,” said Don Johnson, GM’s vice president of U.S. sales operations, in a conference call today. “Consumers are being cautious, but they are not out of the market. We think that will continue the rest of the year.”

GMC led GM brands with a 41 percent jump over August 2010. Chevrolet rose 16 percent and Buick was up 12 percent. Cadillac was up 4 percent after three consecutive monthly declines.

GM said the Chevrolet Cruze topped 20,000 sales for the fifth straight month. The new entry was helped by lingering shortages of small cars at Toyota and Honda.

Chrysler continued to benefit from the performance of its Jeep brand, which was up 58 percent in August and is up 50 percent for the year. Chrysler ran a no-payments-for-90-days promotion for some buyers of 2011 and 2012 Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram models during the month.

Ford-brand sales rose 16 percent. Lincoln, up 25 percent, rose for the third straight month following six straight months of decline.

Prior to today’s reports, August sales were projected to run at a 12.1 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, according to the average estimate of 14 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The pace averaged above 13 million through April of this year and dropped below 12 million in May and June before rising to 12.2 million in July.

“With the economic woes, summer vacations and Hurricane Irene taking center stage, August may be a lost month for vehicle sales,” said Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates, in a statement yesterday.

J.D. Power’s SAAR forecast for July was 11.9 million units, saying demand dropped sharply in the second half of the month as consumers waited for bargains and bad weather took over.

Motor Industry Still Feeling Effects from Japan Tsunami

Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. are speeding returns to normal production after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami idled factories and created shortages of parts. The slowdown in May sales came about because limited supply of fuel-efficient cars like Toyota’s Prius lifted prices and curbed purchases.

“Consumers were being told so dramatically after Japan that there’s going to be a shortage of cars, but this is going to be a temporary situation and so many of them will just wait,” said Alan Baum, principal of industry consultant Baum & Associates, who predicts 13 million auto sales in the U.S. for 2011. “To the extent May is a reasonably poor month, I’m not going to get carried away and say that’s going to transcend through the rest of the year.”

U.S. sales of cars and light trucks may rise to 13 million this year, the average of 16 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That would be the most since 13.2 million in 2008.

Average U.S. gasoline prices dropped for 14 straight days since May 11 to $3.80 a gallon for regular unleaded, according to AAA. Prices earlier in May were at the highest level since 2008, reducing demand as the country’s vacation season started.

The earthquake in Japan may result in 3 million to 3.5 million units of global production that will be lost or deferred into next year, according to researcher IHS Automotive. Worldwide light-vehicle production may rise to 73.7 million units this year from 71.9 million in 2010, according to IHS.

Toyota, which built 45 percent of its cars in Japan last year, may lead declines among major automakers with a 27 percent drop in May deliveries, the average of three estimates. Honda Motor Co., the second-largest Japanese automaker by U.S. sales, may say sales fell 25 percent, the average of three estimates. Nissan Motor Co. deliveries may decrease 7.3 percent, the average of three estimates.

“Predominantly this is a supply issue,” George Magliano, a New York-based senior economist for IHS Automotive, said in a telephone interview. “The auto market was developing considerable momentum coming into this month before issues related to Japan.”

Automakers benefiting from their Japan-based rivals’ supply constraints may be led by Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. Their combined U.S. sales may pass Toyota for the first time, according to Santa Monica, California-based TrueCar.com. Deliveries for Hyundai and Kia may surge 43 percent in May to 115,434, behind only General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., according to the auto pricing website.

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, has said it expects production in North America to return to about 70 percent of normal levels beginning in June, from about 30 percent in May. Honda forecast last week that North American production will return to 100 percent in August for all models except Civic small cars, and said May 17 that global production will return to normal before the end of the year.

 

U.S. auto market continues its recent strengthening trend with sales of almost 700,000 in January, up nearly 7 percent compared with 654,757 vehicles in January ’09. Seasonally adjusted light-vehicle sales rate up to 10.76 million units versus last year’s 9.59 million

Jan._'10_Big_7_graphic_r1_550 - final.jpgThe U.S. auto market in January continued its recent strengthening trend, with overall sales just shy of 700,000 vehicles (698,456 vehicles) for the month rising by nearly 7 percent compared with 654,757 vehicles in a very weak January 2009. The seasonally adjusted light-vehicle sales rate ticked up to about 10.76 million units versus last year’s 9.59 million – and roughly in line with the firming picture of recent months.

Toyota was clearly the biggest loser in January due to its recalls and stop-sales order on eight of its bestsellers. Yet, January’s results varied widely for its top competitors that may have tried to take advantage of Toyota’s problems with special incentives meant to lure disaffected Toyota customers in particular.

Toyota’s January sales “were 23 percent below our internal target,” Robert Carter, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.’s group vice president and general manager of the Toyota division, said in a conference call Tuesday. That number insinuated that more than 20,000 lost sales were attributable to the recall and sales stoppage in just the last few days of January.

Toyota only escaped greater damage in January because it didn’t halt sales until January 26, when only four sales days were left in the month. And the toll on the Toyota brand, especially, has been heavy nonetheless: Sales were down more than 47 percent compared with December, and January sales ranked as the worst month for Toyota since January 1999.

“Toyota was clearly the biggest loser of the month,” said Jessica Caldwell, director of U.S. sales analysis for Edmunds.com. As long as the sales suspension continues, predicted Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Ray Zhou, Toyota-brand sales will drop by about 75 percent overall as long as the stop-selling order remains in affect.

As for Toyota’s competitors, results were mixed.

Ford continued its surge of recent months by reporting a 24-percent sales increase for January. The company credited its increasingly robust product portfolio, but Ford also dangled $1,000 rebates to current owners of Toyota models and of products by Honda, which is facing its own significant safety recall.

Hyundai, which launched a similar incentive program, saw its January sales rise by 24 percent over last year as well. Recently, Ford and Hyundai  clearly have been the two hottest companies of the Big Seven of U.S. auto sales.

Meanwhile, General Motors – which first introduced a Toyota-targeting incentive – reported a 14-percent sales increase in January compared with a year earlier.

“What we responded to last week was feedback from our dealers who were hearing from Toyota owners who wanted to get into a new vehicle,” explained Susan Docherty, GM’s North American vice president of sales and marketing. “Our January go-to-market plan had been to focus on our loyal owners. So we needed to adjust our incentives” after Toyota’s troubles deepened, opening an opportunity for rivals.

Honda’s January sales, however, dropped 5 percent. It did nothing special to target Toyota owners. Meantime, Honda also had to cope with the fallout from its own announcement of a recall of 646,000 Fit/Jazz and City models, including 140,000 in the United States, because of a faulty window switch.

Overall, Edmunds.com’s Caldwell said, January was a rather tepid month. Strong incentive campaigns in December had “pulled forward quite a few” retail sales from January, she said. And the return of a relatively normal market for fleet sales in January helped comparisons of this year versus January 2009, when overall fleet sales were abysmal.

“The next big shopping weekend,” Caldwell said, “will be Presidents’ Day” in mid-February. “We should see month-to-month sales growth” for February from January, she said.

GM paragraph up.jpgGM: Regaining Its Footing

Robust fleet business helped GM post a 14-percent overall sales increase in January compared with a year ago, to 146,316 units. Such is GM’s rising confidence that the company firmed up its official forecast of total U.S. light-vehicle sales for 2010, to a range of 11.2 million to 11.7 million units from the previous range of 10.7 million to 11.7 million units.

2010 GMC Terrain - 200.JPG“The economic news continues to be mixed in the U.S., but there are increasingly positive signs of recovery,” said Michael DiGiovanni, GM’s executive director of global industry and market analysis.

But GM’s retail sales fell by 10 percent during the month as the company continued to cope with the nearly complete disappearance, by now, of its Pontiac, Hummer, Saturn and Saab brands from the marketplace.

“We were only selling four brands” in January versus eight a year ago, Docherty noted. The abandoned brands represented less than 2 percent of January sales and now account for less than 1 percent of dealer vehicle inventories. “We’re 10 months ahead of schedule on the wind-down of Pontiac and Saturn brands,” she said.

Meanwhile, fleet sales burgeoned in January. A year ago, GM sold only 13,000 vehicles to fleets; in part that was because the nation’s economy was in crisis, in part it was because the company had chosen to pull ahead about 25,000 fleet sales to December 2008 that had been scheduled for completion in January.

This January, fleet sales rebounded to about 42,000 units, comprising about 29 percent of GM’s overall sales for the month. That was above the 26 percent of sales that has been the average for the company over the last three years.

Still, the GM executives touted the relative progress they’ve been making in retail sales over the last several months, in large part due to strong consumer response to all-new or completely revamped models including the Chevrolet Equinox, Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, Cadillac SRX and GMC Terrain.

“Our conquest rates are up” overall, Docherty said, “particularly in large products.” Moreover, she said, GM’s average incentive spending continues to decline while the industry’s continues to rise.

Ford paragraph up.jpgFord: Sales Jump – Thanks To Fleets

January’s overall sales hike of 24.1 percent for Ford Motor Co. looks sensational, but an outsized increase in fleet sales ran interference for stunted retail sales, which dipped about 5 percent, Ford officials said.

Nonetheless, sales were up for all Ford brands (including a hefty 41-percent spike at Volvo) – and every Ford model posted a sales gain in January. The Lincoln division hiked sales by 16 percent and even the Mercury unit improved sales by 6 percent.
And Ford sales officials crowed that market share improved to 16 percent for the month, perhaps as much as 2.5 points better than January 2009’s figure.

But one has to look no further down the sales sheet than to the pre-Cambrian Ford Crown Victoria’s 91-percent sales jump, or the Ranger’s 47.3-percent climb, to know fleet buyers are back in the game after delaying purchases throughout a shaky 2009.

Fleet sales accounted for a hefty 37 percent of Ford’s 116,277 total sales in January – a figure double last year’s 18 percent but a ratio more closely aligning to what chief of U.S. industry analysis George Pipas says will be a “pretty normal” industry-wide fleet-mix average of around 22 to 24 percent in 2010.

Ford’s fleet-heavy sales mix did not go unacknowledged by Ken Czubay, vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service, underscoring the industry’s relatively meek month that seems to have palpably deflated hopes of putting together a consumer-rallying streak.

“January retail sales to (individual) customers were below our expectations,” Czubay said flatly. The current consumer mindset is all about the perception of there being good deals in the market, he added. In an unexpectedly strong December, Czubay said, buyers responded to what they believed were showrooms rich with attractive deals.

But January’s incentives were lower – at Ford and across the industry – so perhaps consumer perception about dissipating deals was “fueled a little bit by reality,” Pipas conceded. According to Edmunds.com’s proprietary True Cost of Incentives metric, Ford’s average incentive of $3,095 in January was up $55 compared with December, but the industry’s January TCI of $2,382 was notably lower than December’s $2,542, meaning an average of almost $200 less going to consumers.

2008 Ford Ranger - 200.JPGIn addition to the Crown Victoria and the Ranger, Ford’s top performers in January included the Fusion, gaining 49.3 percent, the Mustang, with a 61.2-percent improvement (possibly also fleet-driven) and the Focus, which climbed 33.7 percent.

Ford’s crossovers and trucks all gained, too, led by the Escape’s 28.6-percent increase, a 25.5-percent hike for the Edge and a 9.5-percent gain for the F-Series pickup. The old-school Explorer and Expedition even generated increases, 15.2 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively.

Although the Lincoln unit’s overall sales improved compared with January, 2009, the MKS and MKZ sedans were off by a troubling 16.6 percent and 14.2 percent, with the flagship MKS finding just 1,280 buyers. The MKX crossover rose 26.7 percent, though, and the Navigator somehow improved by 9.7 percent to 726 sales.

Mercury’s gain was driven by the 111.9-percent boost for the Grand Marquis (yes, grandma Mable, they still make it), a 12.1-percent improvement from the Milan sedan and 0.3-percent increase for the Mariner compact crossover. The rest of Mercury’s lineup consists of the Sable (nine units sold in Jan.) and the Mountaineer (-44.3 percent)

Toyota paragraph down.jpgToyota’s Not-So-Excellent January Adventure

Everyone knows the bad news for Toyota. The good news: it probably could have been worse.

Thanks, perhaps, to how late in the month the company’s recall of eight high-volume models came, Toyota’s January sales decline of 15.8 percent seems practically tolerable. Still, it was the company’s single worst sales month in 11 years.

Robert Carter, Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc.’s group vice president and general manager, Toyota division, said the final tally of 98,796 sales was about “23 percent below our internal target.”

Since he also added that sales of the other 11 Toyota-badged model lines not affected by the recall tracked roughly as the company projected, almost all of the decline from last January’s 117,287 sales total seemingly can be attributed to customers turning away from the Camry, Corolla, RAV4, Tundra, Matrix, Avalon, Highlander and Sequoia.

2009 Toyota RAV4 - 200.JPGThe recall didn’t stop the RAV4 from posting a 6.4-percent increase for the month, but it was the only recalled model to break for positive ground. The Camry, 2009’s best-selling model, dropped 17.7 percent, the Corolla, along with RAV4 also in the U.S.’s top-10 best-selling models, declined 3.6 percent; the Matrix, based on the Corolla, already is out of production. Avalon plunged 51.7 percent to a mere 944 sales.

Of the recalled truck models, the usually consistent Highlander slid 15.7 percent in January, Sequoia dove 56.2 percent and the Tundra was off 40.2 percent.

Other trouble spots included the Scion unit, with each of the brand’s three models dropping by double digits, and the small-car swoon was augmented by a 10.3-percent decline for the Yaris.

Toyota’s bright spot for the month was the Lexus premium division: sales were up 14.2 percent, bucking a lengthy slide for the luxury unit. The improvement was fueled by the addition of the HS hybrid, which contributed an incremental 1,247 units to the Lexus’ 15,517 January sales. The ES midsize sedan (+6.6 percent) and the LS flagship’s 30.9-percent turnaround performance made the two the only Lexus passenger cars to post a gain, however.

On the truck side, Lexus’ GX stepped out with an enormous 163.8-percent increase, countered by a 5.5-percent drop from the always-strong RX crossover.

It all added to a market share of 14.1 percent, according to analysts at Edmunds.com, Toyota’s lowest share inat least four years.

Carter insisted that, for now, Toyota’s not concerned with the sales charts. Fixing the 2.3 million recalled vehicles is the company’s first and only concern at the moment, he said.

First, Toyota’s taking care of the customers who own the affected vehicles, “then we’ll get back in the sales business,” Carter said. “We have the best dealers in the country, and they’re going to prove it,” by doing the best job possible to attend to the recall, he added.

Honda paragraph down.jpgHonda Hangs In

Regardless of economic conditions, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. rarely has had to struggle to connect with customers, but the market seems to be insistent on making Honda work harder to monetize its historically enviable brand image.

January was another month that left Honda essentially treading water. Not that many automakers wouldn’t happily take Honda’s 67,479 sales, but the total left Honda down 5 percent compared with last January. And with a few exceptions, performance from individual models was underwhelming.

Sure, the Accord broke out to a fine 35.6-percent gain that amounted to 20,759 units sold. The Civic held its ground with a 12.1-percent improvement, too.

2009 Honda Fit - 225.JPGBut Honda has to be wondering what’s going on with the once-hot Fit subcompact, sales of which have waned in recent months and dipped a fearsome 38.4 percent in January. The month is not known as one of the industry’s strongest, but even in that context, the Fit’s decline must be causing furrowed brows from Ohio to California to Tokyo.

The same can be inferred for the Insight hybrid; in January Honda moved just 1,307 of a vehicle initially projected to easily sell in the 7,500-per-month range. Unless gasoline prices balloon again sometime this year, the unloved Insight may have trouble hitting a quarter of the sales volume Honda envisioned.

The truck side of the business did not begin the year auspiciously, either. Every Honda-brand light truck was down for the month, led by the 33.4-percent slide for the Ridgeline, to a barely-breathing 738 units. The hoary Element trailed Ridgeline by two sales in January, a 30.8-percent slide. And even the dependable CR-V dropped a meddlesome 20.3 percent, while the blocky Pilot dropped 21.1 percent to sales of 4,865.

At the Acura upscale division, each of the brand’s three cars declined in January, led by the RL’s drop of 42.7 percent to an infinitesimal 110 units. Worryingly, perhaps, the midsize TL’s 1,986 sales outpaced Acura’s usual best-seller, the entry-level TSX, with just 1,806 sold in January, a drop of 18.7 percent compared with last year.

Acura’s MDX crossover was January’s saving grace, pushing to a 20.3-percent gain, while the RDX also had one of its better recent months, declining just 5.3 percent. Meanwhile, the all-new ZDX cross-whatever’s contribution of 172 sales can’t have too many Honda executives wondering what they’ll do with all the bonus money tied to Acura volume increases.

Nissan paragraph up.jpgNissan: Nose to the Grindstone

Nissan posted a 16-percent increase in sales in January, to 62,572 units compared with 53,884 units a year earlier. The results continued recent monthly gains for Nissan and moved the company at least temporarily into sixth place in overall U.S. auto sales, ahead of fast-dropping Chrysler Nissan Versa - 210.JPG.

At the same time, Nissan’s spending on incentives in January rose by an average of 14 percent per vehicle, according to Edmunds.com’s proprietary True Cost of Incentives formula. It rose about $200 to $2,455 from December 2009 to January, meaning that the company was still trying hard to “buy” sales in an overall January market that saw incentive spending ease.

“Nissan had a true sales increase,” noted Edmunds.com’s Caldwell, “but they had high incentive spending.”

The company’s gains were led by a 19-percent increase in sales of its Nissan brand. Sales of the Versa subcompact, for example, rose by 18 percent compared with a year earlier, to 5,914 units – setting a record for the month of January.

Other Nissan vehicles recording double-digit sales increases in January compared with a year ago were Armada, Maxima, Sentra, Altima and Frontier.

The Infiniti luxury marque struggled, however, with overall sales for January down by about 6 percent compared with a year ago in a U.S. luxury market that remains depressed. Sales of Infiniti’s M, EX and FX models plunged by high double-digit percentages compared with a year earlier.

Chrysler paragraph down.jpgChrysler: Searching for a Platform

Chrysler is going to advertise its poor-selling Dodge Charger during the Super Bowl telecast on Sunday, the first time in several years that any of the company’s products or brands have made an appearance. But the modest buzz around Chrysler’s re-entry into the Big Game is about the only thing the company is doing these days that could be construed as good news.

January sales brought more dismal results. Chrysler Group reported total U.S. sales for the month of 57,143 units, a decline of 8 percent compared with a year earlier. For a month in which other major competitors posted sales increases, Chrysler’s poor showing plunged it to sixth place overall among the U.S. auto market’s Big Seven – now, behind Nissan and ahead of only Hyundai.

2009 Dodge Journey - 210.JPG What’s more, Chrysler only tread water with the help of a big boost in fleet sales in January. “Chrysler is not getting a lot of retail interest in its vehicles right now, period,” said Edmunds.com’s Caldwell. “So until they get their new products out, or something to talk about, we can’t expect to see any positive results coming out of Chrysler – even with heavy incentives on their vehicles.”

The best highlight that Chrysler was able to muster was that its Dodge Journey crossover posted year-over-year sales gains in January for the third consecutive month. Also, the Jeep brand saw half of its lineup improve sales year-over-year, Chrysler said. And the Town & Country minivan saw sales jump by 6 percent while its Dodge Caravan counterpart saw sales rise 34 percent.

Meanwhile, sales of Chrysler’s once-stalwart 300 sedan plunged by 26 percent from a weak January 2009, and sales of its Charger and Dodge Challenger muscle cars declined by 47 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

“The company continues to make positive strides each month and that trend continued in January,” said Fred Diaz, president and chief executive officer of the Ram brand and lead executive for Chrysler’s overall sales organization. Diaz also pointed to Chrysler’s plans for “refreshed products and all-new models hitting the marketplace this year.”

Obviously, for Chrysler, they can’t come fast enough.

Hyundai paragraph up.jpgHyundai: Bolts For The Front

With January sales of 52,626, the Hyundai Group (the Hyundai and Kia brands combined) is putting together a run that soon may take it past sputtering Chrysler Group LLC and bring it within sight of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.

Chrysler – the nation’s No. 6 seller – sold less than 5,000 units more than Hyundai in January. Nissan, despite its own 16.1-percent sales increase, sold less than 10,000 units more than Hyundai last month. Hyundai, with a string of new models in the pipeline, could give both traditionally larger rivals a genuine run this year.

2011 Kia Sorento - 300.JPGAfter all, Hyundai has rarely been shy about incentives, but in January, its incentive levels, measured by Emdunds.com’s True Cost of Incentives index, averaged $2,096 per vehicle –  almost $1,000 less than Chrysler’s ($3,061) and even markedly less than Nissan’s $2,455.

Hyundai’s potential surge is highlighted by the solid January breakout of the all-new 2010 Tucson, which bolted to 2,216 sales in an early-launch month. The number was a 128-percent increase over the old Tucson’s sales last January, Hyundai said.

Meanwhile, the Elantra compact car more than doubled sales, from 3,307 last January to 7,690 this year. The Accent subcompact also gained by a healthy 62 percent. The Genesis flagship improved by 58 percent. On the passenger-car side, only the building-out, current-generation Sonata lost ground, losing 62 percent.

Hyundai’s Santa Fe crossover gained by 43 percent, although the fullsize Veracruz dropped 66 percent to a paltry 401 sales.

In all, Hyundai sold 30,503 vehicles in January, while Kia kicked in with 22,123 sales.
Kia was led by a blistering performance from the new ’11 Sorento crossover, which found 7,398 buyers in January, more than Toyota’s Highlander (4,478), double Nissan’s Murano (3,648), and more than Ford’s Edge (6,243).

Incremental gains for Kia in January’s flat performance include 3,732 sales of the compact Forte and 2,145 units of the Soul hatchback.

VW/Audi: Running a Strong, But Distant No. 8

As the Big 7 automakers jockey for position, Volkswagen-Audi ranks as the No. 8 manufacturer selling vehicles in the U.S., albeit a distant No. 8. Combined, the brands sold 24,529 vehicles in January, up 40 percent from 17,466 in January a year ago. That gives them 3.5 percent market share.

Volkswagen contributed the bulk of those sales: 18,019 vehicles for a 41-percent increase. January 2010 marked Volkswagen’s seventh consecutive sales month of growth.

“We are pleased by the strong start to 2010,” said Mark Barnes, Volkswagen of America chief operating officer. “It’s encouraging to see so many of Volkswagen’s newest models continuing to gain momentum in the marketplace — namely the CC, Tiguan, Golf and GTI.”

Of Volkswagen’s total, Jetta stood as the sales leader with 8,893 vehicles sold. CC sales soared 76 percent to 1,891 units. Tiguan sales skyrocketed 87 percent to 1,424 vehicles. The Routan minivan, made by Chrysler, had a 6 percent increase. Even the old New Beetle had a shopping 173 percent increase in sales that totaled 2,167 vehicles. The new Golf and GTI are just hitting the market. Passat sales, however dropped by a third. Volkswagen sold 2,447 diesels in the month.

2010 Audi A3 - 250.JPGAudi sold 6,510 vehicles for a 38-percent increase over a year ago, giving the Germany luxury brand added momentum after a strong December.

“Having ended 2009 on such a high note, it was important to ensure that our success was substantive and enduring,” said Audi of America President Johan de Nysschen. “January sales figures reinforce the notion that our momentum is the byproduct of relentless innovation years in the making.”

Audi A3 sales jumped 106 percent, largely due to the availability of the A3 TDI clean diesel model. Audi had a strong month for diesels: half of A3 sales were diesels, 48 percent of Q7 sales were TDI. Audi said that level of demand far exceeds original expectations for TDI sales when Audi introduced the two models last year.

Sales of the Audi A4 sedan, the brand’s bestseller, rose 60 percent. Other A4 variants rose 34 percent. Audi A5 sales were up 74 percent to 1,051 vehicles; Q5 sales rose from last year’s 31, when it was just introduced, to 1,050 vehicles.

Audi still has its laggards. It sold a scant 52 units of the soon-to-be-replaced A8 for a 45-percent drop, only 43 R8s for a 60-percent decline, and 103 TTs for a 34-percent drop. A6 sales declined 35 percent to 507 units.

Mazda Holds Its Ground

Mazda North American Operations posted an essentially flat January, with sales up 1.8 percent to 15,694 vehicles. Mazda held 2.2 percent market share

The brand’s Mazda3 compact car was the volume seller at 7,368 units, but the number represented a 3.7-percent drop compared with January 2009.

Mazda’s top gainer in January was the CX-7 crossover, which increased 39.3 percent to 1,622 sales. The Mazda5 mini-minivan rose 21.4 percent and the Mazda6 sedan rounded out the brand’s improving sellers with a 14-percent gain.

Sales dropped a heavy 41 percent for the RX-8 sportscar to a demoralizing 92 total units, while winter was slightly kinder to the evergreen MX-5 roadster, which declined 15 percent. The Tribute compact crossover slid 42.1 percent and the fullsize CX-9 crossover dropped 12.8 percent.

Subaru: Records Shattered — Again

2010 Subaru Outback - 250.JPGAfter a gravity-defying performance in 2009, Subaru continued to shatter its own records and sped past other makes by reporting a 28-percent sales increase over January 2009. Subaru sold 15,611 vehicles in January 2010, compared with 12,194 units sold in January 2009. That pushed Subaru’s market share to 2.2 percent, up from last January’s 1.9 percent.

January’s surge also allowed Subaru to clinch the No. 9 sales spot in the U.S., speeding past Daimler brands’ Mercedes and smart as well as BMW and Mini combined. In 2009, Subaru handily whipped Mercedes-Benz in sales but the BMW brand still sold more vehicles than Subaru. In 2010, Subaru outpaced both BMW Group and Daimler.

Leading the charge were Subaru’s newly redesigned Outback and Legacy, which posted their best January sales ever. At 5,467 sold in January, the Outbacked doubled sales from 2009. Likewise, Subaru sold 2,448 Legacy models, also double what it sold a year ago.

Forester sales retreated slightly – 4 percent – from its 2009 blistering pace. Impreza sales were off 15 percent; Tribeca sales fell 38 percent to a mere 256 units sold.

Daimler: Mercedes Gets No Help from Smart

Daimler AG eked out a narrow lead over rival BMW with Mercedes-Benz and smart sales totaling 15,436 vehicles, a 26-percent climb from a year ago that gave the company 2.2 percent of the U.S. market.

But smart was no help. The relative newcomer to the U.S. sold a scant 278 fortwo vehicles in January, an 84-percent plummet from the 1,776 sold in the year-ago January.

In contrast, Mercedes-Benz saw sales soar 45 percent to 15,158 vehicles. The C-Class returned as Mercedes’ volume seller – 4,028 sold for a 33 percent rise from a year ago. The new E-Class wasn’t far behind, knocking in 3,824 units for a 166-percent hike.

Also posting beefy double-digit increases were: S-Class; SL-Class; M-Class; G-Class; GL-Class; and GLK-Class. And Mercedes sold 436 Sprinter cargo vans, which previously was sold by Dodge but is no longer due to the split of Daimler and Chrysler.

Posting equally hefty double-digit declines were the CL-Class, CLK-Class, SLK-Class, CLS-Class and R-Class.

BMW Group: BMW, Mini Off to Good Start

The BMW Group, including the BMW and Mini brands, sold 15,410 vehicles in January, a nearly 8-percent increase from a year ago. That gave the BMW group a 2.2 percent market share.

In contrast to Daimler’s smart, Mini, which had its own struggles in 2009, came out of the doldrums, posting sales of 2,247 vehicles, up 8 percent from a year ago.

BMW sales rose nearly 8 percent to 13,163 vehicles. BMW car sales rose 15 percent. The new 7-Series chipped in 1,300 sales. Still, car sales were offset by 12-percent decline in SUV sales.

“Traffic in our showrooms was a bit sporadic this month, but combined with a strong December we are delighted to see a positive January gain,” said President of BMW North America Jim O’Donnell.

Mitsubishi Slides

Mitsubishi sold 4,170 vehicles in January, a slight decrease fro last year’s 4,730 vehicles. It’s market stood at 0.6 percent.

Mitsubishi said Galant sales rose 22 percent from a year ago, Endeavor sales were up 128 percent from then and Outlander sales were about even with a year ago.

Jaguar/Land Rover Sales Dip

Jaguar Land Rover North America was one of the few manufacturers to report lower sales this January than last. The company sold 2,589 vehicles, down 3 percent last January. The brands combined hold 0.4 percent market share.

The drop was caused by lower Jaguar sales. The automaker sold only 631 Jaguars, down 19 percent from 781 sold in January 2009. The Jaguar XK bucked the marque’s trend with sales up 41 percent to 138 units. Still the XF and XJ, which is being wound down, dropped.

Land Rover sold 1,958 vehicles, up 4 percent from a year ago. Ranger Rover Sport, for the second consecutive month, had a sales increase – 46 percent to 823 units. LR4 sales were up 12 percent. Range Rover and LR2 sales were down double digits.

Suzuki Plunges 44 Percent

Despite gains of 5 percent for the Grand Vitara crossover, 12 percent for the SX4 lineup and even a 97-percent jump for the Equator pickup, American Suzuki Motor Corp.’s total sales still dropped 44 percent compared with last January. Suzuki sold a total of 2,040 units last month for a 0.3 percent market share.

The tiny brand couldn’t overcome the 978 sales lost from the discontinuation of the Forenza/Reno line or the 1,000 units-plus gone with the XL-7 crossover.

Those losses could not be made up by the meager 197 sales for the all-new, recently launched Kizashi sedan, a performance that cannot be encouraging for Suzuki or its enthusiasts. The Kizashi went on sale in early December last year and sold 71 units in its first month on the market, so January’s 197 sales did represent a 270-percent month-over-month gain.

Panamera Sales Move Porsche Forward

After a rough 2009, Porsche sales edged higher in January compared with a year ago.
The sports car maker sold 1,768 vehicles in the U.S. for an 8-percent increase and a 0.3 percent market share.

The rise came on the strength of the new Panamera. Porsche sold 534 of them. Sales of the rest of Porsche’s models were down significantly.

“In this environment, we are very pleased with the sales performance of our new Panamera, which continues to build up market share,” said Detlev von Platen, Porsche Cars North America’s president and CEO. “Even though we see a small ray of sunshine in consumer confidence, the luxury car segment remains challenging, especially for sports cars.”