One year ago, the U.S. economy was moribund with the cascading effects of the financial crisis, and auto sales were in a deep freeze. In the first month of 2010, auto sales aren’t quite as bad, bouncing back a modest 6% from last January’s total. Depressingly, that’s less than half the year-over-year uptick seen last month: December sales saw a surprisingly healthy 15% increase over the grim prior year. One possible explanation for the weaker January numbers is that December sales were goosed by carmakers’ traditional year-end sell-a-thon.
With unemployment stubbornly high — and those who are still employed jittery about their job security given the layoff-happy mindset prevalent among corporate chieftans today — consumers are loath to take the new-car plunge without a compelling financial enticement. But automakers, particularly the Detroit three, have (finally!) weaned themselves from overproduction, so inventories are at historic lows and there is little urgency to sweeten the pot for consumers by plopping a big pile of cash on the hood. Luxury-car buyers, meanwhile, may be less constrained by ability to pay than by a desire to avoid flashy purchases.
Without a lot of extra incentives, January’s modest gain over last year is probably a better indicator of the actual health of the auto market than December’s comparatively rosy outlook.
JANUARY 2010 SALES VERSUS JANUARY 2009 [Source: Automotive News]
ASTON MARTIN -3%
BMW GROUP +8%
A massive increase in sales for the freshened 7-series dwarfed all other factors for BMW this month (although Z4 sales jumped by a factor of four). Still, BMW didn’t do nearly as well as Mercedes-Benz or Audi.
(That’s actually only one less delivery than last January: 29 vs. 30 cars)
CHRYSLER GROUP -8%
The Sebring enjoyed more sales and the Town & Country managed a small gain; the 300 and the PT Cruiser saw sales decline, and the departure of the Aspen SUV also resulted in lost sales for Chrysler.
The Avenger, the Grand Caravan, and the Journey were up, while the Charger, the Challenger, and the Nitro declined. The Caliber was almost unchanged.
Ram -25% (Ram pickup, Dakota pickup, Sprinter van)
The newly christened Ram division, now separate from Dodge, suffered from declining sales for both its pickup and from the loss of the Sprinter van, which is now sold by Mercedes.
Increases for the Compass, the Commander, and, to a lesser extent, the Grand Cherokee, couldn’t offset a fall in Wrangler, Liberty, and Patriot sales.
DAIMLER A.G. +26%
Mercedes-Benz posted the biggest increase in the luxury class, and in fact the biggest brand increase overall. E-class sales more than doubled, S-class sales increased by half, the C-class was up by a third, the SL increased by an incentive-stoked 82%, and the SUVs did well. The coupes (including the CLS) all dropped.
Fast-falling Smart hasn’t quite reached the anemic level of Maybach (which sold only 3 cars in January, versus 5 a year ago), but if things don’t improve it’s going to get there soon.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +25%
Fleet sales helped Ford power ahead, as Taurus deliveries more than doubled. tThe Crown Victoria did nearly as well, and Mustang, Ranger, and Fusion sales all grew significantly.
Lincoln’s SUVs showed growth and, together with a bump for the Town Car, that more than overcame slippage for the MKS and the MKZ.
The Grand Marquis doubled its volume over last January and the Milan gained a bit, but the Mariner was flat and the Mountaineer fell hard.
All Volvo models did better this January, paced by the smallest Volvos: sales of the C30 doubled, while S40 sales increased by half.
GENERAL MOTORS +14% (BUICK, CADILLAC, CHEVROLET, GMC +31%)
The new LaCrosse nearly tripled year-ago volumes, making January a very good month for Buick.
The new SRX more than tripled the volume of its predecessor, but with no help from the rest of the lineup (all of which did worse than last year), Cadillac actually slipped a bit.
Chevrolet enjoyed a strong month, boosted mostly to the Cobalt (+150%), the HHR (+221%), the Malibu (+77%), and the Equinox (+76%).
GMC managed a better-than-industry-average month, thanks to the Acadia and the new Terrain. All other GMCs were down.
During a touch-and-go month for Saab, is it any surprise that deliveries tumbled even from weak, year-ago totals?
AMERICAN HONDA -5%
Acura did worse than last year, and the addition of the ZDX (with only 172 units sold) did little to help.
Although one might expect Honda to be one of the major beneficiaries of Toyota’s troubles, the brand stumbled in January, with gains for the Accord, and to a lesser extent the Civic, overrun by declining sales across the rest of the lineup.
Hyundai may have picked up some would-be Toyota shoppers, as it started off 2010 building on its gains of last year. The Elantra and the new Tucson both saw increases of more than 100%, while the Veracruz (-66%) remains a weak spot.
Kia did not share in its sister division’s good fortune, although the new Sorento and the Borrego both had triple-digit gains. The Rondo, the Sedona, and the Sportage all fell by more than half.
JAGUAR LAND-ROVER -3%
Sales of the outgoing XJ all but stopped ahead of the arrival of the new model, dragging down Jaguar’s numbers for the month.
Land Rover +4%
The Range Rover Sport continued its recent winning streak, and the LR3 managed a small gain to put Land Rover in the positive column this month.
Mitsubishi lost more ground in January, with Eclipse sales sliding by more than three-fourths and Lancer sales off a bit. The Endeavor crossover had a big month and the Galant gained a bit.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +16%
Infiniti’s crossovers saw declines, but its old-school QX56 nearly tripled in volume. Add in a minor increase for the G and a bigger loss for the M, and you get a declining month overall.
Nissan may have benefited from Toyota’s troubles, as most of its sedans enjoyed healthy increases this month, as did the big Armada.
The SX4 managed a small gain, but the Kizashi is off to a slow start and can’t begin to make up for sales lost by the XL7 SUV, leaving Suzuki well off last year’s numbers.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES -16%
Lexus rises just about in tune with the industry average, appearing unscathed by Toyota’s bad publicity. The new GX gets much of the credit, as does a modest increase for the LS sedan. All other models fell back.
Scion sales continue to sink, with all three models affected.
It’s probably not too surprising that Toyota division sales fell by nearly one-fifth in January, as the company was plagued by recalls and even stopped production and sales of the affected models. Every Toyota model did worse than last year, with the exception of two: the Venza more than doubled sales and the Prius managed a minor gain (the Prius was not part of the accelerator recall that affected Toyota’s January sales, but it has recently recalled all 2010 Priuses for brake troubles).
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +40%
Audi couldn’t quite equal the increase posted by Mercedes but enjoyed a very good January nonetheless, thanks mostly to the addition of the Q5 (which was just getting started a year ago). A shout-out also to the A3, for its 106% increase.
Volkswagen’s January numbers were certainly very good, but they would be a lot better if the biggest-gaining car (on a percentage basis) wasn’t the far-from-New Beetle (+173%). Maybe collectors are buying them. Newer, more mainstream models also did well, however, particularly the Tiguan (+87%) and the CC (+76%).
TOP 5 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES
(AND RANK LAST MONTH)
- Ford F-series 27,630 (#1)
- Chevrolet Silverado 22,772 (#4)
- Honda Accord 20,759 (#5)
- Nissan Altima 18,636 (#9)
- Toyota Corolla/Matrix 17,121 (#3)