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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.

GM’s Super Bowl commercial helped Ford

Super Bowl Ad Aftermath: Ford Boosted By GM’s Fallout?

Playing dirty might be de rigeur in politics, but it seldom helps in selling products—even dusty pickups ravaged by the apocalypse.

That might end up being GM’s tough lesson from its Super Bowl XLVI ad which, to some, spoke less about the strengths of GM products than it did attack Ford’s reputation for durability and longevity.

GM’s Super Bowl commercial helped Ford

Based on traffic and visitor data collected by the shopping and pricing site Kelley Blue Book, more visitors browsed Fordafter the GM commercial—a lot more—even though Ford didn’t have a big Super Bowl ad. Whether looking at the controversy in the days surrounding, or specifically at the window of time during and after the ad aired, Fordappeared to benefit most, if an immediate browsing or shopping of new vehicles was the goal.

Full-size pickup truck visitors on Super Bowl Sunday, 2012 – Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com data shows consumer interest in the Silverado lifting during the commercial airing, leveling off after the commercial and declining after the game, as interest in the F-150 surged, curiously. Despite the Silverado’s lift during the game, Ford’s F-150 still drew a greater share of week-over-week attention from KBB.com consumers.

In comparing consumer interest on kbb.com among the Full-size truck segment, KBB analyst Akshay Anand noted that the share of visits to the F150 surged over 26-percent week-over-week, while the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 saw a 25-percent drop in traffic during the same period.

“Looking at the data for that whole day, Ford did see some lift, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” said Anand.

That leads to how some might have heard the commercial…something along the lines of this: What kind of truck do you drive to the impending apocalypse? If it’s a Ford, oh you sorry sap, you’re just not going to make it.

Advertising 101: Don’t make the competing product your punchline

And that hits hard at one very important factor: brand loyalty. To many, the commercial was less a declaration of the strengths of GM products than it was the buildup to an attack on Ford’s trucks. And it may have sent Ford loyalists to their laptops and tablets to search for reassurance about Ford’s reputation, as their GM counterparts gloated and stayed on the sofa.

“Truck owners tend to be more loyal than those in any other segment,” said Anand, and when a product with that level of loyalty is mentioned negatively in an ad, argued Anand, the response is likely to be one that’s on the defensive.

Other potential explanations: Ford was mentioned bluntly and clearly right near the end of the ad, so is that somehow the name that stuck with viewers? Or does the lesson to be learned really have more to do with etiquette?

It is, after all, one of the first commercials in some time to blatantly call out a competing product without mention of a number or metric as basis.


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.

2011 FORD EXPLORER : Consumer consideration across several segments and a wide variety of competitors

Ford Explorer sales sunk during the past several years. Ford touched 450,000 Explorer sales in 2000 and was one of the market’s best-sellers, but the numbers plummeted from there, to barely more than 50,000 sales last year.

Now, early data from Edmunds.com indicates Ford has a shot at once again establishing the Explorer as a major player. Consumer consideration on Edmunds’ car-shopping Web site for the reconstituted SUV is hitting across several segments and going against a wide variety of competitors.

 

Ford marketers have a tough assignment in successfully altering the Explorer – which almost single-handedly established the “family SUV” template in the mid-1990s – from its well-established and trend-setting image of a rough-and-tumble SUV to that of a more contemporary and environmentally-friendly crossover.

But it seems potential buyers may be along for the ride, forgetting the original Explorer’s off-road slant, accepting their lifestyles and likely usage probably are more realistically aligned with the new, 2011 Explorer, with its passenger-car platform, better economy and reduced emphasis on brawny stuff.

In November, for instance, the vehicle most cross-shopped — that is vehicle that Ford Explorer shoppers also considered — against the 7-passenger 2011 Explorer was Toyota Motor Corp.’s Highlander crossover, according to data from Edmunds.com. The Highlander always has been more of a minivan-alternative than an SUV wannabe.

Ford’s own Edge and Escape crossovers (which seat only five) were the vehicles second and ninth most cross-shopped against the new-generation Explorer (reviewed this week by Edmunds’Inside Line), but in another promising development for the company, the two were the only Fords in the top 10 vehicles most cross-shopped against the Explorer in November.

Meanwhile, a high proportion of those considering competitor Chrysler Group LLC’s new Jeep Grand Cherokee at Edmunds.com cross-shopped the Grand Cherokee against the 2011 Explorer, a vehicle that only now is reaching showrooms. A significant and consistent 12 percent of those considering the Grand Cherokee have cross-shopped the new-generation Explorer in the past three months, making the revitalized Grand Cherokee the third most cross-shopped vehicle against the Explorer.

The Explorer also is being cross-shopped against some fairly-upscale iron, perhaps to some degree because of its standard 7-passenger seating capability: Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s Acura MDX and General Motors Co.’s Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia also are among the top 10 vehicles most cross-shopped against the Explorer.

Top Vehicles Cross-Shopped Against Ford Explorer 12-10.JPGTough Enough

Potential buyers seem to be saying the new-age 2011 Explorer – with no V8 power and a reduced towing capacity – still is enough of an “SUV” for their lifestyles. Edmunds.com data on reverse cross-shopping — shoppers who were looking at other vehicles and also considered the Explorer — indicate fewer of Ford’s traditional truck-based models are being considered by Explorer intenders as they instead cross-shop more competitor models that might be considered more SUV than crossover.

That set includes the Grand Cherokee (cross-shopped by 10 percent of Explorer intenders) and the Dodge Durango and Ford Expedition, both reverse cross-shopped by 14 percent of Explorer shoppers. The reverse cross-shopping numbers are up significantly from a year ago, when just 8 percent and 9 percent, respectively, of those considering the Explorer were cross-shopping Durango and Expedition.

Body-on-frame SUVs such as Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner also now are significantly higher on the Explorer cross-shopping list than they were a year ago.

Ford also surely is hoping to improve on its ability to get current Explorer owners to trade for a new Explorer. Edmunds.com data indicate that the number of those trading in an Explorer for another Explorer has plunged from 19.1 percent in 2005 to just 7.4 percent last year and 8.5 percent so far in 2010.

Midsize SUV sales - dec. 2010.JPG

Edmunds

 

Ford resale values and its quality scores rise; biggest gains in industry, guide says

Ford car resale values rose an average of $2,420, the most of any automaker and almost four times the industry-wide increase, research firm Automotive Lease Guide said.Ford also had the biggest gain in the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based firm’s scores for “perceived quality,” a measure of such values and consumer views of reliability. Ford’s resale gain for 2010’s first half compares with an industry average of $616 from a year earlier, Matt Traylen, the firm’s chief economist, said Friday on a conference call. “The perception is starting to catch up with reality,” Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing chief, told reporters on the call. “Resale value is the ultimate proof point.”The second-largest U.S. automaker has gained sales and market share in its home market with new and redesigned models such as the Fusion sedan. The Fusion’s resale value after three years is now $1,600 higher than that of Toyota’s Camry, according to Automotive Lease Guide.

Ford will begin promoting its resale values in advertising during the next three months, including a company-wide sales promotion late in that period, Farley said.

That Ford was able to avoid a government bailout while General Motors and Chrysler reorganized in bankruptcy with federal aid “was very important in consumers’ minds,” Traylen said.

Ford staved off a bailout by borrowing $23 billion in late 2006 before credit markets froze. CEO Alan Mulally used the money to rebuild the quality and offerings of the Ford brand. The company’s U.S. sales surged 33% this year through April, almost twice the industry’s 17% gain.

Survey: Toyota’s Recalls Drive Shoppers to Ford, Hyundai

(The Wall Street Journal) – The accumulation of Toyota’s recalls, which deepened Wednesday to include the the seemingly unlikely 2003 Sequoia SUV, is driving buyers to rivals like Ford and Hyundai, The Wall Street Journal’s Driver’s Seat blog reported Thursday.

People who were planning to buy a car in a year or so “have pushed Toyota way down on their consideration lists,” says Art Spinella of CNW Research in Bandon, Ore. According to his survey data, 17 percent of these so-called long-range intenders have Toyota among their top three choices, down from 27 percent a year ago. In the same period Hyundai rose to 12 percent from 11 percent and arch rival Ford jumped to 26 percent from 17 percent.

Ford is also the first choice of people who had previously considered a Toyota, and Hyundai is second. “These competitors are filling the void,” Spinella says. Short-term buyers and longtime Toyota owners are another story, though. Shoppers planning to buy soon are still buying Toyotas in part because dealers are piling on discounts and other incentives — a tactic Toyota used to avoid. The Toyota faithful are largely sticking with the brand, he says.

In the used car market, Toyotas are losing the resale value advantage they have long enjoyed. A year ago used Toyotas were typically fetching 97 percent of the asking price, compared with Ford at 90 percent. Today Toyota is at 90 percent and Ford is at 97 percent, according to CNW.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Auto sales: Ford and Chrysler Group post a 25% gain from year-ago levels

Ford Motor (FFortune 500) and Chrysler Group both posted a 25% gain from the year-ago levels, although Ford sales fell by 9% from March. Chrysler managed a 3% gain on its March sales total. Toyota Motor sales rose 24% compared to a year ago, but that marked a 16% drop from its March sales total. General Motors reported a more modest gain in April sales compared to a year ago and also fell short of the March sales total.

Results at GM and Ford were roughly in line with forecasts and matched the trend expected across the industry. Forecasts are for total U.S. auto sales to be up between 21% to 23% from a year ago, but down between 5% to 7% from March.

Toyota fell far short of forecasts of a 33% to 39% rise from year-ago sales.

Only Chrysler’s sales were a bit better than forecasts, which had put its year-over-year sales gain in the 11%-19% range.

It wasn’t difficult for automakers to top numbers from last April, when bankruptcies loomed at GM and Chrysler, and the economy and financial markets were also in far worse shape, with job losses over the first four months of last year hitting record levels.

So comparisons to March sales might be more relevant, and somewhat less encouraging.

But George Pipas, director of sales analysis for Ford, said the company was not concerned about the month-to-month drop in industrywide sales expected in April. He said March’s sales were inflated by the storms in February, which pushed back some purchases, and the recall problems at Toyota Motor (TM) earlier in the year.

Ford’s April sales marked the fifth straight month the automaker’s sales gained 20% or more, good enough to move it back ahead of Toyota to be the No. 2 automaker in terms of U.S. sales.

It reported double-digit increases across most of its models and brands except Volvo, which it’s in the process of selling to Chinese automaker Geely. Car sales posted a 10% gain, while sales rose more than 30% for both of its truck and utility lines.

GM sales in April rose 6% from last April, but slipped 2% compared to March. That was slightly better than expert forecasts of a 3% to 4% gain compared to a year ago.

Sales at the four brands GM is in the process of closing or selling — Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and Saab — tumbled 96% from a year ago. GM shed those brands as part of the bankruptcy process it filed in June of last year. There are less than 2,000 of the discontinued brands’ vehicles left in dealer inventories, according to Steve Carlisle, GM’s vice president, U.S. sales operations.

But the automaker posted much better comparisons for the sales of its four remaining brands — Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. Sales for those brands rose 20% compared to a year ago, and down only 1% from March levels.

Carlisle said he was pleased by the sales at the core brands and at the fact that GM was able to cut cash incentives offered to buyers in April.

“We continue to earn those sales, not buy them,” he said.

Chrysler sales gains were uneven. Sales of car models nearly doubled, while sales of light truck models other than minivan models fell 12%. Sales were flat at its Jeep brand, while sales at its Ram line of light trucks tumbled 22%. But sales for its Chrysler and Dodge brands both shot up 61%.

Other automakers are due to report results later Monday. To top of page