New-car sales were again solidly over the 14-million-unit annual rate in April, in another sign that the auto industry's nascent recovery has taken hold. GM joined Ford and Toyota in raising its forecast for full-year sales to the low 14-million range. That pace is up nicely from last year's 12.8 million, 2010's 11.6 million, and to 10.4 million total from recession-wracked 2009. However, it's still not quite at pre-crash levels, which often reached 16 million units.
And it doesn't look like we're going to get there, as things appear to be leveling off. April sales were up only 2% over last year's relatively strong April (although 2012 figures are dampened somewhat because there were 3 fewer selling days than in April 2011). Some carmakers, like GM and Ford, were down slightly; and those that were up, like Chrysler and Hyundai-Kia, saw smaller increases than they had in recently months.
Looking at 2012 so far, it's clear that the spring selling season arrived early, along with the warm weather in much of the country. "The spring we have waited four years for is finally here," said Automobile Magazine president Jean Jennings at a gathering of industry bigwigs in April, and she was right.
Interestingly, gasoline prices that in many areas have topped $4 a gallon do not appear to be dragging down new-car sales the way they did in 2008. In fact, some auto executives have suggested that they may instead be spurring sales, as buyers seek to replace their current vehicle with a more efficient new model. We'll see whether that dynamic holds, as gas prices are unlikely to mitigate in the run-up to summer driving season.
APRIL 2012 SALES RESULTS, AND PERCENT CHANGE VERSUS APRIL 2011.
GENERAL MOTORS -8%General Motors sales declined in April for the first time this year. GMC was the only division to better its year-ago performance. Buick and Cadillac continued the downtrend, and Chevrolet flipped from positive to negative this month. GM laid the blame on a reduction in fleet sales, claiming that retail sales were essentially flat.
After a monster month last April, the Cruze (-28%), Malibu (-11%), and Impala (-29%) all dropped. Chevrolet also lost 6222 sales with the departure of the HHR, although it gained half of those back with the fleet-only Captive Sport SUV. In better news, the Sonic is solidly outselling the old Aveo, and most of the trucks were in positive territory.
Strength in trucks is obviously good for GMC, where the Sierra (+20%) and the Canyon (+27%) saw the most growth.
The Verano continues to grow volume, and outsold the Regal (-37%) in April. All other Buicks declined.
The CTS was flat, and that was the best news at Cadillac. The division's fortunes are unlikely to change before the new ATS and XTS sedans arrive later this year.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY -5%Ford slipped in April, and almost lost its second-place position to resurgent Toyota. The winding down of the Crown Victoria, the Ranger, and the Town Car, none of which are being replaced, is a stealth drag on volume.
Ford claimed best ever April sales for the Fusion (+2%) but the nameplate still dropped from the number seven spot last month to tenth overall. The F-series (+4%) remained solidly number one but the Escape (-16%) is finally slowing down heading into its model changeover.
The MKS (+57%) managed a second monthly gain of better than 50 percent, and the MKT (+43%) was up as well. The loss of the Town Car hurts, though, and the MKZ (-27%) is weakening.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +12%Toyota posted another market-beating increase in April, and expect to see more in the months ahead as current totals compare favorable with last year's tsunami-diminished volumes. The recovery is slower, however, at Lexus, which improved to flat, and Scion, which slipped.
The new Camry (+21%) couldn't match its standout March, but it once again outpaced its rivals and tucked in behind the Ford F-series as the second-bestselling nameplate in the land. The other big Toyota news was the Prius, which doubled, pushing it past the Corolla/Matrix and putting it in the top five nameplates for the first time; remember that the Prius is no longer just one model, but three: Prius, Prius V, Prius C.
The new GS added some 2000 units to the Lexus monthly total, but it couldn't overcome losses from the aging ES (-14%), LS (-44%), and the RX (-12%).
The tiny iQ contributed 962 units to Scion's volume in April, but it wasn't enough to offset declines for all three other models. The FR-S doesn't arrive until next month.