2009 April Auto Sales: No Recovery Here

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.


General Motors
Chevrolet saw a hefty rebound this month — and don’t credit the Camaro (614 units), as it’s only now starting to trickle into dealerships. Both cars and trucks were up. Equivalent GMCs, however, didn’t see as much gain. Pontiac sank 38 percent. The Lucerne and the Enclave offset a faltering LaCrosse to push Buick into positive territory. Cadillac was about even, with an uptick in car sales masking a slipping Escalade. Saturn was flat. Saab sank 29 percent, falling below even Hummer.

The good:
Chevrolet Avalanche +76%
Chevrolet HHR +67%
Buick Lucerne +60%
Saturn Outlook +46%
Chevrolet Cobalt +34%
Saturn Astra +33%
Cadillac DTS +26%
The bad:
Pontiac G6 -52%
Pontiac G8 -32%

Ford got a boost from a galloping Mustang and the 2010 Fusion. Contrary to some published reports, the hybrid Fusion (with 1073 sales) was not a big contributor; in fact, Ford’s hybrid sales were lower in April — despite the addition of the Fusion and Milan hybrids — than they were in their peak month last year (May), when the only hybrids Ford sold were the and Mercury Mariner.

The good:
Ford E-series van +40%
The bad:
Mercury Grand Marquis -32%
Ford Crown Victoria -26%

Chrysler’s sales collapse in April from the already anemic levels of the previous month is astonishing and alarming.

The good:
Dodge Ram -7%
The bad:
Dodge Avenger -69%
Chrysler PT Cruiser -46%
Dodge Dakota -44%
Chrysler Sebring -41%


Toyota’s decline in April was mostly the result of the Toyota division, both car and truck, as Lexus and Scion held steady. Emblematic of Toyota’s slide, the Camry was knocked out of its spot as the number-one-selling passenger car by a resurgent Honda, which outsold the Camry with both the Accord and Civic.

The good:
Tundra +11%
Yaris +38%
The bad:
Sequoia -45%
FJ Cruiser -22%
Sienna -21%

Honda surged in April, almost entirely on the strength of the car side (including the Odyssey), and by the addition of the new Insight hybrid (which gained 1527 over its intro month). Some of those Insight sales, however, might have come at the expense of the Fit, which was looking a bit flabby. The big gainers were the Civic, which zipped past the to claim the number two spot in passenger-car sales, and the Accord, which powered ahead to number one. Acura did little to help; its sales were flat.

The good:
Accord +29%
Civic +27%
The bad:
Fit -22%

Nissan suffered a big decline in April, with sales off nearly a third compared to March.

The good:
Armada +31%
Maxima +14%
The bad:
Quest -42%
Murano -39%
Altima -38%
Infiniti -32%
Versa -32%
Pathfinder -32%
Rogue -32%
Sentra -31%
Xterra -29%

Mazda hit the skids in April, with sales slipping 27 percent below March levels. The brand’s crossovers continued to fall, and its once-hot Mazda5 minivan cooled considerably. The car side was no better, with the Miata‘s gains overwhelmed by declines in Mazda’s mainstream models.

The good:
Miata +30%
The bad:
Mazda6 -41%
CX-9 -34%
Mazda5 -33%
Mazda3 -25%

Subaru slid a bit in April, as the white-hot Forester cooled a bit (although it’s still running ahead of last year) and the Impreza declined as well. Against those declines was an increase in Legacy sales, ahead of a new version coming later this year.

The good:
Legacy +13%
The bad:
Forester -12%
Impreza -12%


Despite major incentive spending and the innovative (and now copied) program to buy back a new car in the event of a buyer’s job loss, Hyundai/Kia saw sales fall 9 percent in April compared with March.

The good:
Hyundai Tiburon +77%
The bad:
Hyundai Veracruz -24%
Kia Rondo -33%


Volkswagen Group
The Volkswagen group managed to grow its sales by 5 percent over March, with contributions from VW, Audi, and even Bentley. At VW, the formerly strong-running CC and the Jetta fell back, while the New Beetle and the Routan enjoyed an incentive-fueled burst. Audi garnered its biggest gains from the Q5.

The good:
Volkswagen Routan +153%
Volkswagen New Beetle +121%
The bad:

BMW Group
At the BMW group, the bookend brands–Mini and Rolls-Royce–were essentially (Mini) or exactly (Rolls-Royce) unchanged from the prior month. Unfortunately, the BMW brand was down, mostly on the weakness of its bread-and-butter 3-series.

The good:
6-series +68%
X6 +41%
The bad:
3-series -29%

The good news for Daimler in April was that Maybach was able to sell 8 cars again, the same as it did in March. Neither Smart nor Mercedes-Benz was able to equal its March sales, but they weren’t that bad, either. Low gas prices likely put a damper on Smart. Mercedes was troubled by lower volumes for its core C-class and for the new GLK.

The good:
CL-class +79%
SL-class +63%
S-class +59%
The bad:
R-class -46%
GLK -29%
C-class -15%

Top 5 sellers (and change from prior month)
29,212 (+29%)
Ford F-series 28,757 (-12%)
Chevy Silverado 26,437 (+12%)
26,252 (+27%)
25,324 (-2%)