The stock market may have recovered from its March lows, bouncing back to its (still rather pathetic) start-of-the-year levels, but with no commensurate relief in the jobs market (as more companies -- even seemingly healthy ones -- join in the layoff spree), there has been no recovery in auto sales. April's annualized selling rate remained well under 10 million units, a far cry from the 14.4 million figure of a year ago.
Unsurprisingly, the greatest deterioration occurred at Chrysler, which slipped into bankruptcy at month's end. Sales dropped 24 percent from the anemic March total (that's a decline of 48 percent, for those who prefer year-over-year figures). This despite the industry's highest incentive spending, of $4288 per car.
Some domestic-brand sympathizers defecting from Chrysler appear to be moving to Ford and General Motors. Ford (counting Ford/Mercury/Lincoln only) saw a 4 percent sales increase in April (versus March), while GM (excluding Saab) sold 12 percent more vehicles in April than in March. Also, both GM and Ford were running promotions offering some protection in the event of a buyer's job loss, and both spent heavily on incentives, with GM throwing $4063 at buyers and Ford $3636.
Industry giant Toyota continues to show feet of clay. Sales slipped a further 5 percent compared to March, putting the Japanese powerhouse behind Ford for the month. Toyota spent far less, however, to achieve those sales: only $1648 per car. Honda was another frugal spender, handing over only $1439 per vehicle and still clocking a 14 percent increase over March, enough to pass faltering Chrysler. Hyundia/Kia cooled a bit, off 9 percent from March despite domestic-like levels of incentive spending: $3591. Nissan tumbled a dramatic 29 percent versus the prior month, while spending an average of $2279 for each sale.
Spring typically sees auto sales perk up, but the poisonous economy looks to have created a silent spring. If the stock market can hold its recent gains, and employers take a break from their mass layoffs, perhaps May's warmer weather will finally take the chill off the new-car market.