April 2011 Auto Sales

2011 Hyundai Elantra

After a good first quarter, the auto industry entered the spring selling season with its engine still revving. Deliveries topped 1 million, for an annualized selling rate of 13.2 million units. If that pace can be maintained, it would make for a very healthy jump over 2010's 11.6 million vehicles, but it would still be a couple million short of the bubble years.

As in March, the trend was toward cars and away from trucks. In particular, high-mileage small cars and mid-size sedans are enjoying robust sales. In a rare moment of the industry being in sync with fickle buyers, manufacturers are rolling out plenty of new models in those categories, so this sales trend looks likely to continue.

SALES RESULTS FOR APRIL 2011, AND PERCENT CHANGE VERSUS APRIL 2010

GENERAL MOTORS +27%
After getting knocked out of the top spot by Ford last month, GM was securely back in its traditional position as America's number one automaker. But to get there, the General relied on the equally traditional tactic of heavy fleet sales (which were 1/3 of the total). Additionally, dealer inventories have swollen. Still, there is underlying strength here, as retail sales were up 25% over last year.

Chevrolet +26%
The Cruze sold 25,160 units, enough to leapfrog the Toyota Corolla and capture 6th place overall. The Malibu also had a monster month (+49%) but only a fraction of those gains were retail sales. We suspect the same is true for the Aveo (+67%) and the Impala (+31%). The Silverado stagnated (-1%) and was passed by the Accord and the Camry, a sign of April's move toward cars and away from trucks.

Cadillac +16%
Cadillac was the only GM division that had a bigger improvement in its retail sales than in those to fleets. Driving those retail gains were the CTS (+29%) and the SRX (+12%). The Escalades declined.

Buick +51%
Buick looks white-hot, but maybe it's really only red-hot (retail sales were up 35%). For Buick, it's not so much surging demand for existing models -- the best was the Lucerne (+28%) -- as it is the addition of the Regal, which was up by 24% over March and is closing in on the LaCrosse and the Enclave.

GMC +30%
It was mostly the crossovers that pushed GMC ahead in April: the Terrain (+64%) and the Acadia (+42%), although the big van doubled. The Sierra had a more modest increase (+12%) and the Yukons were down.

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Could you tell us how these numbers relate to pre Recession sales numbers?

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