January 2012 Auto Sales

After the strong finish to 2011, auto industry insiders were looking ahead to 2012 with great expectations. All were predicting a year of higher sales -- for their own companies, naturally, but also for the industry overall. Most estimates were that sales could grow from 12.8 million units in 2011 to well into the 13 million-unit range in 2012. The January figures are now in, and in the first month of the new year, we're actually on a pace to top the 14 million mark. Sales were up by 11% over January 2011 and yet incentive spending has pretty much held steady. Another few months like this and analysts will have to revise their estimates upward.



In a rising market, General Motors sales declined compared to last January, but the company's year-ago totals were inflated by pull-ahead lease deals. All four GM brands declined, even with more fleet sales in the mix. The bright spot was Chevrolet car sales, led by small cars like the Cruze and the Sonic (which is selling as twice the rate of the Aveo). Most worrisome was the decline at Cadillac.

Chevrolet -1%
Aside from the aforementioned Sonic and Cruze, Chevy's midsize cars did pretty well in January (the fleet favorite Impala even snuck into the top ten), but trucks dropped a bit. Most serious were the Traverse (-23%) and the Tahoe (-24%) although the latter was somewhat offset by the Suburban (+25%).

GMC -10%
Usually GMC's and Chevrolet's sister models move in sync, but the GMC version of the Suburban, the Yukon XL (-30%) diverged from the Chevy this month; similarly, while the Equinox was up, the Terrain (-11%) declined. Compact pickups, however, perked up for both brands but more so for GMC (Canyon, +53%).

Buick -23%
A decline in Regal sales (-21%) is not good news, and neither is the slipping Enclave (-28%). The LaCrosse is holding its own (+6%) and the Verano (795 sales) is not yet a factor.

Cadillac -29%
Cadillac's across-the-board declines hit the CTS (-31%) and the Escalades (-28%); only the SRX (-2%) was relatively unscathed.


Ford's modest overall increase was driven by an outsized contribution from the new Focus and the not-so-new Escape, both of which got a push in January. Unfortunately, Ford's percentage gain was exactly matched by Lincoln's percentage decline, which is mostly due to the loss of the Town Car.

Ford +8%
The Escape (+24%) continues to go out in a blaze of incentive-fueled glory; it was Ford's bestselling nameplate behind the F-series. A big Focus effort paid off (+60%) but at some cost to the Fiesta (-18%) and perhaps the Fusion (-5%) as well.

Lincoln -8%
The MKS sedan was Lincoln's biggest gainer (+23%) while the MKT crossover fell the most (-29%) -- not counting the departing Town Car.


Toyota was off to a good, but not great, start in its attempt to put the nightmare year of 2011 behind it. The new Camry is firing on all cylinders, which helped Toyota power ahead, but Lexus suffered a decline.

Toyota +9%
A powerhouse month for the Camry (+56%) was enough to overtake the Chevy Silverado and become the number two nameplate overall. Surprisingly, none of that success came at a cost to the Avalon (+79%). The new Yaris (+64%) is also looking strong. There's still weakness on the truck side, from the Highlander (-9%), to the RAV4 (-12%), to the 4Runner (-24%). As at GM, compact pickups (Tacoma, +25%) were a bright spot.

Lexus -5%
At Lexus, car sales grew, thanks to the ES (+9%) and the addition of the CT; the new GS isn't yet a factor. Truck sales, however, dragged down results, mostly due to the RX (-14%).

Scion +8%
The xD was up slightly while the tC and xB were down. The tiny iQ sold a tiny 374 units.

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I buy cars that are 2 years old so I don't take the initial sticker hit or antiques I feel will appreciate so new car dealers hate me. That being said, I would like to focus on Buick and Lincoln in my comments. Buick: Your regal is an awesome platform. Sexy and aspiring in nature. Here are the problems. It is too expensive. Way too expensive. The price needs to go down. The engine options in Europe need to appear. The awd option needs to appear. The wagon version needs to appear. Why not the Holden Caprice and The Holden Monaro to show up quickly @ Buick instead of giving yet another car to Chevy? Why not the full Astra line with Buick? Why not a luxed out Zafira? You need to hire me as product manager. Dang.Lincoln. You need to be an all rwd brand that competes with Europe. Look to Caddy for better inspiration. Your car brand needs to feel more Mercedes e Class than Lexus e350. Just saying. Look to your Australian arm for help.

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