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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.

 

2010’s Worst-Selling Cars

2010’s Worst-Selling Cars

After bottoming out in 2009, auto industry sales are slowly recovering. The U.S. will sell about 11.5 million cars and light trucks this year, up from 10.4 million in 2009. And the news only gets better: IHS Automotive forecasts sales of 12.8 million vehicles in 2011, and 17.1 million by 2015.

Total light vehicle sales are up 11.1% through November, with many brands beating the trend and gaining market share: Buick is up 53.5%, Cadillac is up 38%, Infiniti is up 26% and Ford, Hyundai and Jeep are each up 23%.

But while most carmakers are enjoying gains from last year’s dismal sales levels, the bounce is not universal. Some models are just languishing on dealer lots, victims of outdated designs, lack of marketing support and intense competition.

Forbes studied industry sales figures through November to cull a list of the year’s worst-selling vehicles. We tossed out brands like Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer that are being killed, and didn’t count vehicles that are being discontinued like the Chrysler PT Cruiser or Kia Rondo. We also excluded cars that we know are in the midst of a model life cycle change because sales typically fall as automakers are trying to clear out the old design before ramping up production of the new one.

We found that practically the entire SuzukiSZKMF.PK – news– people ) lineup is in the doldrums, lost amid tougher competition. Sales are down 42% for the year overall, with vehicles like the compact SX4, Grand Vitara SUV and Equator pickup dying on the vine for lack of resources. But there’s reason to hope: The new Kazashi mid-sized sedan has been well-received, and Suzuki plans to launch a new advertising campaign on Christmas. It’s working to refresh its lineup, too. After ending its long-term relationship with General Motors, the Japanese carmaker is now in talks with Volkswagen (VLKAF.PK – news – people ) about co-developing new vehicles.

Other poor performers include the fuel-sipping Smart ForTwo, which was all the rage in 2008, when gas was $4 a gallon, but has endured a two-year sales collapse. The quirky two-seater from Germany’s Daimler AG is down 60% this year, on top of a 41% decline in 2009. Penske Automotive GroupPAGnews – people ), which distributes the vehicle in the U.S., is now testing Car2Go, a car-sharing concept for Smart, and plans to market an electric Smart soon.

Small cars in general aren’t selling as well now that gas prices have fallen and pickups and larger vehicles are making a comeback. It doesn’t help if your company has taken a beating on quality issues, either. Toyota (TM – news – people )’s Yaris subcompact, for instance, is down 37.6% and its Scion xD is down 31%. Both are about two years old, and face stiff competition in a newly crowded market segment. They’ve been tarnished, too, by Toyota’s widely publicized quality recalls. Overall, Toyota sales are down 0.8% so far this year.

Also struggling to stand out from the crowd is the Mazda (MZDAF.PK – news – people ) Tribute, a poor stepchild in Mazda’s lineup of snappy coupes and sports cars. It’s based on the Ford Escape crossover, but pales in comparison because it hasn’t been updated with some of Ford’s appealing high-tech features. Consumers have figured out they might as well buy the Escape.

In this economy, nobody really needs a sports car. Thus, the sports car segment is suffering. The Mazda RX 8 is down 50% from a year ago, and the PorschePSEPF.PK – news people ) Cayman is down 31%. Porsche hopes the newly introduced Cayman R, featuring Porsche’s most-powerful mid-engine, will add a little excitement to boost sales

Price War: Honda and Toyota Get Down and Dirty, helping to boost March auto sales

Price wars and discounting used to be the province of beleaguered companies from Detroit. Now Honda (HMC) and Toyota (TM) are down in the bargain mud, too — and helping to boost March auto sales.

Forecasts for annual U.S. auto sales for the month are around 12.5 million range for theSeasonally Adjusted Annual Rate. That’s a sharp improvement from a 10.8 million SAAR in January 2010 and 10.4 million in February.

“The shape of the U.S. SAAR over the rest of the year will largely depend on how long the industry’s pricing battle goes on,” saidBrian Johnson, auto industry analyst for Barclays Capital.

Toyota kicked off the discounting this month with offers of zero-percent loans, to boost demand in light of the unintended acceleration disaster. Honda responded with cheap, no-money-down lease deals.

Such steep discounts are unusual for the Japanese carmakers, because their cars have typically been in higher demand than U.S. brands. Last month, before the current round of price-cutting kicked in, Edmunds.com said Honda’s incentives averaged about $1,400, less than half the level of Chrysler, Ford and GM. Toyota incentives averaged about $1,800, according to the shopping and research web site.

Meanwhile, ChryslerFord (F) and General Motors are bending over backwards to cut production and try and reduce the need for deep discounts, especially since Chrysler and GM went bankrupt last year. The results have been mixed.

Edmunds.com CEO Jeremy Anwyl said in a written statement the Toyota deals are unlikely to last, because Toyota’s inventories of unsold cars aren’t that high. The Toyota deals are set to expire April 5.

“Although this SAAR sounds promising,”Anwyl concluded, “it’s too early to wave the flag and say that the economy has turned the corner.”

Toyota U.S. sales fall 16% in Jan.; Ford, GM, Nissan UP

JANUARY U.S. AUTO SALES
Toyota sales fall 16% in Jan.; Ford, GM, Nissan rise

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., hobbled by suspended sales on eight recalled models, suffered a 16 percent drop in January demand while most competitors rose from depressed levels of a year ago.
U.S. sales at Toyota Division, which markets each of the recalled models, fell 19 percent. The Lexus luxury division, which wasn’t targeted in the Jan. 21 recall, gained 5 percent.
Sales at Ford Motor Co. jumped 25 percent — the company’s fourth straight monthly increase. General Motors Co. was up 14 percent, while Chrysler Group, the other survivor of a 2009 bankruptcy, fell 11 percent. In unit sales, Chrysler fell behind Nissan North America, which advanced 16 percent. American Honda slipped 5 percent.
Subaru, the only brand with U.S. sales gains in each of the past two years, began 2010 with a 28 percent sales jump.
Shinichi Sasaki, Toyota’s vice president in charge of quality, said today in Japan that the automaker’s sales probably will take a hit. On Jan. 26, Toyota halted U.S. sales of eight models following a recall of 2.3 million vehicles tied to faulty accelerator pedals.

U.S. vehicle sales point to uptick

Automakers emerging from the worst year since 1970 are cautiously optimistic that a recovery is under waylast year’s collapse in U.S. auto sales.executives and analysts said Tuesday they expect car and light truck sales to rise to 11.5 million orthis year from 10.4 million in 2009, bolstered by a strengthening economy.

The most bullish analysts forecast sales exceeding 13 million vehicles — still far below the market’s peak of 17.4   million at the start of the last decade when business was booming for Detroit’s Big Three

“Normalcy is about two years away,” said Jesse Toprak, an auto analyst at pricing and sales forecaster Truecar.com.

The slide in sales began in 2005 and accelerated in 2008, driving two of Detroit’s automakers into bankruptcy last year and pushing their Japanese archrival Toyota Motor Corp. into the red for the first time since 1950.

But executives were encouraged by December’s sales, which marked the fourth consecutive monthly increase in the annualized selling rate. Automakers also reported strengthening demand for both large and small vehicles.

“We’re now in a recovery stage,” said Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, chief economist at Ford Motor Co., which reported a big jump in December sales.

Consumers are feeling encouraged by positive economic news and rising financial markets, Hughes-Cromwick said. “It will take clear evidence of job and income gains to declare a full recovery, and we think that’s likely to gel in this quarter,” she said.

Many executives remain cautious but few still worry about a dreaded double-dip recession. “For the most part, we’ve ruled that out,” said General Motors Co. global industry analyst Mike DiGiovanni.

But, he said, consumer confidence is fragile, oil prices may rise as the global economy expands and the U.S. jobless rate is likely to remain around the 10 percent mark next year. “So we have to balance our optimism with some caution about the outlook for 2010.”

GM ended a tumultuous year — and decade — as the U.S. market leader, which was encouraging, DiGiovanni said, “given all we’ve been through, with bankruptcy and restructuring.”

But over the past 10 years, GM and Ford have lost a big chunk — more than 14 points — of the U.S. auto market.

Toyota and other Asian automakers were the biggest gainers, but the European automakers also made quiet headway. European brands nearly doubled their combined share of the U.S. auto market to 8.4 percent in 2009 from 4.9 percent in 2000.

“This race can get even tighter,” predicted Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at online auto research site Edmunds.com. “You really saw GM lose some ground to Toyota in 2009, but Toyota has lost a lot of ground to Ford.”

Domestics geared to compete

Although 2009 was a terrible year for the domestics, they will be more competitive against foreign rivals this year and next after slashing their costs, shedding debts in government-directed bankruptcies and restructuring operations and dealer networks.

Ford — the only U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy in 2009 — was the best performer among the domestics in December. It reported a stunning 33.5 percent jump in sales, its biggest monthly gain since March 2008.

The Dearborn automaker said demand improved across its model range, with sales of both the Fusion compact and F-Series full-size pickup showing double-digit gains last month.

For both December and the year, the F-Series was the best-selling vehicle in the market, followed by Toyota’s Camry sedan.

GM reported a drop in monthly sales, but its executives noted that GM’s fleet business was down in December, while Ford said sales to fleet customers surged more than 70 percent.

Automakers typically prefer retail sales through dealerships to fleet sales, which have thinner profit margins, but Ford executives welcomed fleet customers.

“It suggests that an important sector of the economy, namely the business sector, is becoming more optimistic,” said George Pipas, Ford’s sales analyst. It also signals greater availability of credit; a credit squeeze had sharply curtailed sales in 2009.

Chrysler Group LLC didn’t release a breakdown of fleet and retail sales but its rivals and analysts said much of the Auburn Hills automaker’s business was with fleets. “We estimate they sold 50 percent to fleets, which is an astronomical number,” said Caldwell of Edmunds.com.

A Chrysler spokeswoman would not comment on the December results but said fleet business was expected to account for 25 percent of its annual sales.

Chrysler’s December sales were down 3.7 percent. For the year they fell 35.9 percent — the biggest decline posted by any major automaker — to less than a million vehicles, the lowest sales since 1962. Honda Motor Co. moved ahead of Chrysler in December, to become the fourth-largest player in the market.

Wes Lutz, owner of Extreme Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Jackson, said he is glad 2009 is over. “How could you get worse than that? How much more downsizing can you go beyond bankruptcy?”

But his December sales were better than last year, and he said he expects January to be stronger and the year to continue to improve.

Toyota reported a 32.3 percent increase in sales in December, and said it led the market in retail sales. But its sales were down 20.2 percent in 2009, which was a bad year overall for the Japanese automaker. It lost money in the United States, where it now has too much production capacity, and it recalled more vehicles for safety issues than any other automaker.

Hyundai Motor Co. and its Kia Motors affiliate were the only major automaking group to record a sales gain in the U.S. last year. Their share of the market increased to 7.1 percent from 5.1 percent a year earlier and 2.3 percent in 2000.

Cautious optimism

Outside the auto industry, economists expect 2010 to show slower growth than last year, with unemployment continuing to rise and peaking in the first six months.

Interest rates are expected to stay low until job growth picks up but a full employment recovery will take years.

Analysts and economists say that in addition to the emerging economic recovery, auto sales in December were helped by two additional selling days in 2009 and a tax deduction for car purchases included in the U.S. government’s economic stimulus measures.

Sales are likely to benefit from pent-up demand from consumers holding on to old cars because of economic and job worries.

Skittish consumers have been saving and scaling back spending as the new frugality of the economic bust replaces the free-spending consumer culture of the last decade’s earlier boom.

Auto analyst John Murphy at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch predicted Tuesday that demand for light vehicles would rise in 2010 to “a more normal low” of around 13.3 million units.

But most auto executives remain cautious after having overestimated demand for 2009, when sales ended up 21.2 percent lower. While GM’s end-of-year forecast of 10.5 million vehicles was close to the mark, Ford and Chrysler’s forecasts were considerably higher.

By February, the annualized selling rate slumped to a previously unthinkable 9.1 million cars and light trucks, the year’s low point.

According to Edmunds.com, sales last year fell to the lowest since 1970, when, Edmunds said, there were 70 million fewer people in the United States.

“For 2010, I’m leaving my seat belt on,” said Ford Vice President Ken Czubay, “because I think volatility will be part of the new norm.”