Even more so than in July, the federal government’s blizzard of car-buying incentive cash — $3500 or $4500, depending on the trade-in and the new vehicle purchased — made new-car dealerships an unlikely oasis in the U.S. economic desert of mid-2009. August’s 1,262,189 new-vehicle sales was a whopping 47 percent higher than the 860,101 units recorded in June (the last pre-Clunkers month). On the other hand, the federally stimulated figure was barely ahead of last August’s 1,250,117 units, which at the time was considered quite dismal.
Considering the current climate, Cash for Clunkers was a bonanza for new-car dealers, although that hasn’t stopped them from complaining loudly about how long it’s taking the government to reimburse them for the rebate money they paid out. Many have been all but cleaned out of their inventory, but that’s not likely to be much of a problem because now that the Cash for Clunkers program has ended, everyone expects September sales to slow to a crawl.
[Because July sales were similarly inflated by Cash for Clunkers, the following August sales results are compared to year-ago figures. Source: Automotive News]
10 CARS THAT CLEANED UP
The following models were able to at least double their August 2008 sales performance.
Volvo V50 +202%
Chevrolet Equinox +185%
Honda Fit +183%
Kia Sportage +166%
Chevy Aveo +159%
Nissan Versa +132%
Ford Fusion +132%
Hyundai Elantra +116%
Mercury Milan +112%
Range Rover +103%
Obviously, the Range Rover wasn’t a Clunkers beneficiary (it benefited instead from a 2010 update), but the other models on this list enjoyed a huge boost thanks to government rebates. The fact that the Equinox also was freshly redesigned helped turbocharge its results. The Volvo V50 had no such help, but it’s important to remember that its huge percentage increase comes on relatively small volume.
TIPPING THE DOMESTIC/IMPORT BALANCE
With small cars benefiting disproportionately from Cash for Clunkers, it’s perhaps not surprising that August saw import brands take their largest-ever share of the U.S. new-car market, with 6 of 10 new cars sold bearing an import nameplate. The federal incentives subsidized the purchase of more Toyota Corollas than any other car. For August, Toyota’s sales were up by 6%, Honda/Acura recorded a 10% increase, and Hyundai/Kia and Subaru of America both tallied much larger percentage gains (+52%). Conversely, two of the three U.S. manufacturers saw declines. Maybe you can guess which two those were. General Motors (domestic nameplates) fell 20% versus year-ago totals — although the company points out that last August it had a pretty big month thanks to an Employee Pricing promotion — and Chrysler, whose bankruptcy filing shut all its auto plants for a while and left it with depleted supplies of some suddenly in-demand models, was off by 15%. Only Ford, America’s favorite not-bankrupt car company, was really able to capitalize on Cash for Clunkers in August, notching a 17% gain (excluding Volvo).
Clearly Acura did not contribute to parent company Honda’s August increase. The TSX managed a tiny gain (+3%), while the SUVs — MDX and RDX — saw their combined sales cut nearly in half (-49%).
Aston Martin -32%
Audi had the best month of any luxury nameplate, thanks largely to the addition of the Q5. Of the continuing models, the new A4/S4 did the best (+79%), while the A6/S6 suffered the steepest decline (-63%).
At BMW, the best news was that Z4 sales were flat. Everything else was down, from a relatively minor -9% for the 3-series, to a two-thirds decline for the X3.
The Enclave (-32%) is the bright spot, if you can call it that, in a bad month for Buick.
As bad as things were for Buick, they were even worse for Cadillac, particularly on the car side: DTS (-79%), STS (-65%), CTS (-56%). The Escalade was slightly less bad (-48%). Only the SRX (+30%) saw an increase.
While the new Equinox (+188%) and the tiny Aveo (+159%) headlined Chevrolet’s winners, others models also got a boost, including the Cobalt (+14%), the HHR (+26%), the Colorado (+12%), and the Malibu (+11%). Even with the addition of 8,680 Camaro sales and another good month for the Traverse (which now outsells the Tahoe and Suburban combined), those gains couldn’t offset the sinking fortunes of the rest of the lineup. Particularly troubling was the performance of the Corvette (-82%), as well as the Silverado (-42%) and the Impala (-32%).
The 300 had a surprisingly strong month (+17%) and the PT Cruiser was flat, but Chrysler was dragged down by the Sebring (-39%) and the Aspen (-82%). The Town & Country (-26%) might have done better, but some dealers ran short of supply.
The Sprinter (+18%), the Avenger (+16%), the Grand Caravan (+13%), and the Journey (+3%) managed gains, and the Caliber might have, too (its sales were flat), if dealers hadn’t run short. On the down side, the Durango (-86%) is in free-fall and the Challenger (-45%) had another slow month.
Besides the aforementioned Fusion (+132%), Ford had three other big Clunkers winners in the Focus (+56%), the Escape (+49%), and the Ranger (+57%). Meanwhile, the F-series (+13%) was the only full-size pickup to pick up sales in August, and the new Transit Connect started its first full month on sale by surpassing the plummeting Expedition (-57%).
The compact Canyon pickup (+35%) scooped up some Clunkers-flush buyers, but otherwise it was all bad news for GMC, with declines in the bread-and-butter Sierra pickup (-42%), the Acadia crossover (-25%), and the Yukon (-68%). The new Terrain has just started trickling into dealerships.
Cash for Clunkers was made for a brand like Honda, and indeed, not only did the program help nearly triple sales of the Fit (+183%), but it also bolstered the Civic (+44%) and the CR-V (+52%). The Accord (-9%) didn’t fare as well, but the real wallflowers were the Pilot (-31%), the Odyssey (-43%), and the Ridgeline (-60%).
Hyundai racked up huge gains, particularly the Elantra (+116%), the Accent (+56%), the Tucson (+50%), and the Santa Fe (+41%). The Genesis (+97%) also enjoyed a big gain, albeit still on low volume, as did the Veracruz (+52%).
The EX (-60%) turned in the weakest performance for Infiniti. One wonders what BMW, which is about to launch the thematically similar 5-series GT hatchback, thinks of that.
The Grand Cherokee had a huge month (+62%). Dropoffs of 34% might have been expected for the Commander but not for the Patriot. The latter, however, was likely a victim of depleted stock.
Kia’s big sales increase was more due to the addition of the Forte and the Soul than it was to increases in existing models, although the Optima (+96%) and the Rio (+94%) both nearly doubled. So did the Sportage(+166%) and the Sedona minivan (+52%), which more than offset declines among Kia’s other SUVs.
Land Rover +13%
The new Range Rover (+103%) roared ahead, while other models suffered mostly modest declines.
The HS250 began to reach dealerships and the new RX posted a slim gain, but those positives were overwhelmed by declines across the rest of the lineup, including the LS (-50%), the GS (-60%), the ES (-29%), and the IS (-23%). Both SUVs also swooned, and sales of the SC430 have slowed to a crawl.
Lincoln sat on the sidelines during the Cash for Clunkers sales rush and suffered declines in all four of its models. The MKX (-20%) was the least bad, while the Navigator (-49%) dropped the most.
Nice gains by the Mazda3 (+33%) and the Mazda5 (+45%) and, to a lesser extent, the Mazda6 (+11%) and the Tribute (+33%), overcame declines in the rest of the lineup, particularly the CX-9 (-39%).
It’s no surprise that the new E-class (+74%) turned in the best performance at Mercedes-Benz this month; it even outsold the C-class (-39%). At the high end, the S-class was off (-39%) as were the coupes and convertibles. Among the SUVs, the GLK fell behind the GL (-19%) and the M-class (+6%). Meanwhile, sales of the R-class (-92%) have all but stopped.
The Milan (+112%) and Mariner (+50%) tracked their Ford counterparts (Fusion and Escape), but the other models were way down. The Mountaineer (-28%) fared better than the Grand Marquis (-71%) and the Sable (-76%).
A strong showing by the Outlander (+68%) couldn’t overcome weakness in the Eclipse (-64%) and the Galant (-63%).
Big ups and downs leave Nissan flat in August. The Versa (+132%), the Sentra (+78%), and the Rogue (+58%) received big Clunkers-fueled gains. And the Cube kicked in 5,347 sales, which put it ahead of both the Maxima and the Murano. But the good news was negated by a collapse in demand for Nissan’s trucks and SUVs: the Xterra (-84%), the Titan (-74%), the Pathfinder (-80%), the Frontier (-58%), the Armada (-69%), and the Quest (-72%).
Monday-morning quarterbacks — or is that Monday-morning CEOs? — who have criticized GM’s decision to permanently bench Pontiac can gloat over the August sales figures, which show Pontiac with the biggest gain of any GM division. Credit the Vibe (+38%), the G6 (+26%), and the addition of the G3 Wave (an Aveo twin).
Rolls Royce -19%
Saturn, which had several Clunkers-eligible models, nonetheless turned in a dismal performance in August. Even the Astra (-47%) fell off a cliff. It’s hard to see how even Roger Penske can restart this brand.
Cash for Clunkers should have been a home run for Scion, with its lineup of three fuel-sippers, but only the xD (+11%) made any headway. The xB was flat and the aging tC coupe (-31%) lost ground.
High gas prices last summer surely inflated Smart’s year-ago sales, and one would think that Cash for Clunkers would have provided a similar boost this year. Not so — and it may be an indication that Smart’s moment has passed.
For more than a year, Subaru has defied the downward direction of the auto industry, largely on the strength of the new Forester, and it showed no sign of slowing down in August (+76%). To be fair, the new Legacy/Outback (+51%) and the Impreza (+30%) kicked I,n too. Only the Tribeca, down less than 10%, failed to see any gains.
Gains for the SX4 (+30%) and the Grand Vitara (+20%) couldn’t offset the sales lost by the Reno, which was phased out ahead of the arrival of the new Kizashi sedan.
Toyota division had more Clunkers sales than anyone. The Camry (+23%) was not only the best-selling car in August, it was the best-selling vehicle in America, powering past the Ford F-series. Other big movers for Toyota were the Corolla/Matrix (+46%), the Prius (+40%), and the RAV4 (+42%). The Yaris (-49%), however, was strangely unaffected by the giveaway. Though the division got a boost from the addition of the Venza, its big trucks and SUVs are suffering: the Tundra (-55%), the Sequoia (-75%), the 4Runner (-76%), and the FJ Cruiser (-77%) all saw double-digit drops.
Volkswagen’s sales increase wasn’t so much a Clunkers-related boost as it was the result of the CC and the Routan joining the lineup. The Jetta had a decent month (+15%), but most of VW’s small cars declined, including the Rabbit (-58%), the GTI/R32 (-52%), and the New Beetle (-34%).
Volvo got some welcome good news in August with a tripling of sales for its V50 (+202%), a near doubling of volume for the S40 (+80%), and a big boost as well for the C30 (+62%). Only the XC90 (-36%) suffered a notable decline.
TOP 5 BEST-SELLING VEHICLES (and rank last month)