October Auto Sales Screech to a Halt

HYUNDAI/KIA -34%
Hyundai -31%
Kia -39%
Highs: Sorrento +0%
Lows: Veracruz -54%, Tucson -67%, Elantra -44%, Sportage -68%
The Koreans, which had been enjoying sales gains earlier in the year, cooled considerably in October. The fallout from tougher lending standards likely overwhelmed any boost they might have gotten from the Walmart effect, whereby economically pinched customers trade down to bargain labels. In October, they didn't trade down; they just didn't buy cars at all.

BMW GROUP -5% (not counting Rolls-Royce)
BMW division -14%
Mini +56%
Rolls-Royce N/A
Highs: Mini!
Lows: Z4 -48%
BMW was down only slightly in October, which translates into pretty much the best performance in the industry. The Mini brand was working exactly as it should, counterbalancing BMW. The standard Mini was up 24%, and the addition of the Clubman drove the brand's sales total up 56%. Over at BMW, sales declines were relatively minor; the aging Z4 fared worst.

DAIMLER-BENZ
Mercedes-Benz -34%
Smart N/A
Highs: M-class +7%
Lows: C-class -40%, CLS -65%, E-class -50%
Even the rich are not immune, as the sales data from Mercedes-Benz confirms. Only the M-class was able to make any headway in October, aided by the availability of a new, 50-state diesel engine. The new C-class, which had been running well ahead of last year, saw a big drop, and the E- and CLS-class models, both coming near the end of their life cycle, were off significantly. Smart, which only started deliveries in January, added 2238 cars, or about 13%, to the U.S. total for Daimler-Benz.

VW GROUP
VW division -8%
Audi +0%
Bentley N/A
Highs: A4 +8%, A5 +472%, R8 +217%
Lows: Passat -55%, Rabbit/GTI/R32 -43%, A3 -46%
At Volkswagen, the addition of the Jetta wagon, the Tiguan, the Routan, and the CC added almost as many sales as were lost by the carryover models, particularly the Passat and the Rabbit/GTI/R32. Similarly, at Audi, the increased availability of the A5 and R8 (both just coming on stream last October), offset declines for the TT, the Q7, and (perhaps most surprisingly) the A3. The redesigned A4, however, is off to a good start despite the grim economy. And while we're on the subject of spiting the grim economy, Bentley is bringing out a limited run of Arnage Final Series sedans, just in time to find its natural audience, Wall Streeters, out on their window ledges. Good thing Bentley is only making 150 of them.

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