After a good first quarter, the auto industry entered the spring selling season with its engine still revving. Deliveries topped 1 million, for an annualized selling rate of 13.2 million units. If that pace can be maintained, it would make for a very healthy jump over 2010’s 11.6 million vehicles, but it would still be a couple million short of the bubble years.
As in March, the trend was toward cars and away from trucks. In particular, high-mileage small cars and mid-size sedans are enjoying robust sales. In a rare moment of the industry being in sync with fickle buyers, manufacturers are rolling out plenty of new models in those categories, so this sales trend looks likely to continue.
SALES RESULTS FOR APRIL 2011, AND PERCENT CHANGE VERSUS APRIL 2010
GENERAL MOTORS +27%
After getting knocked out of the top spot by Ford last month, GM was securely back in its traditional position as America’s number one automaker. But to get there, the General relied on the equally traditional tactic of heavy fleet sales (which were 1/3 of the total). Additionally, dealer inventories have swollen. Still, there is underlying strength here, as retail sales were up 25% over last year.
The Cruze sold 25,160 units, enough to leapfrog the Toyota Corolla and capture 6th place overall. The Malibu also had a monster month (+49%) but only a fraction of those gains were retail sales. We suspect the same is true for the Aveo (+67%) and the Impala (+31%). The Silverado stagnated (-1%) and was passed by the Accord and the Camry, a sign of April’s move toward cars and away from trucks.
Cadillac was the only GM division that had a bigger improvement in its retail sales than in those to fleets. Driving those retail gains were the CTS (+29%) and the SRX (+12%). The Escalades declined.
Buick looks white-hot, but maybe it’s really only red-hot (retail sales were up 35%). For Buick, it’s not so much surging demand for existing models — the best was the Lucerne (+28%) — as it is the addition of the Regal, which was up by 24% over March and is closing in on the LaCrosse and the Enclave.
It was mostly the crossovers that pushed GMC ahead in April: the Terrain (+64%) and the Acadia (+42%), although the big van doubled. The Sierra had a more modest increase (+12%) and the Yukons were down.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +23% (Ford and Lincoln only)
At Ford, sales of cars grew at better than twice the rate of trucks or SUVs. Like GM, Ford goosed its totals with fleet sales (+31%) which grew faster than retail (+10%).
The move toward more fuel-efficient vehicles didn’t slow F-series sales (+11%), but V-6 engines accounted for half the volume, up from 40% in March (three-fourths of V-6s were the Ecoboost turbo). The new Explorer had its best April since 2006, according to Ford. Meanwhile, the Flex dropped by half. Of the passenger cars, the Fusion had another 20k+ month but still managed to get beat by four midsize competitors. The Fiesta topped 9000 units again in April, surpassing the Mustang (itself up 59%) and Taurus.
Good new from the MKZ (+40%) and the MKX (+17%) was offset by bad news from the MKS (-29%), the MKT (-27%), the Navigator (-36%), and the Town Car, whose run is almost up.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +1%
Toyota continues to struggle, unable to get any forward momentum going in this improving market. Its tiny percentage increase was really just a gift from the one additional selling day in this April versus April 2010. You can’t blame vehicle shortages (due to the disaster in Japan), as Toyota claimed to have “healthy inventory and a wide selection of popular models” at month’s end. Only Scion was a bright spot, but unfortunately it accounts for just a tiny fraction of the corporation’s U.S. total volume.
Despite the move to smaller cars, the aging Corolla/Matrix slipped by 13% and the Yaris fell by half, to become Toyota’s worst-selling car. The Camry, however, was up by 9% and topped 30,000 units, just beating out the similarly surging Honda Accord (not to mention upstarts like the Hyundai Sonata and frequent bugbear the Nissan Altima) to retake first place among passenger cars. On the truck side, the Highlander (+27%) and the Sienna (+32%) were looking good, while the rest of the lineup was mostly treading water.
All Lexus cars were down compared to a year ago, and all Lexus trucks were up. The most worrying results on the car side were the ES (-21%) and the LS (-34%). The addition of the CT boosted sales by about 10%. Of the trucks, the GX looked the strongest (+37%).
The new tC coupe more than doubled. More surprising is that the xD mustered a 52% gain, and even the xB managed a 7% increase.
AMERICAN HONDA +10%
Honda was a beneficiary of the move toward fuel-efficiency, even if its gain versus last year wasn’t spectacular. Then again, Honda wasn’t doing as bad as most a year ago.
The Accord was down a bit from the frothy levels of March but it still topped 30,000 units. The Civic enjoyed a huge month during the run-out of the 2011 model. The Insight (+41%) and Fit (+73%) surged. The CR-V enjoyed a big increase (+30%) and was America’s bestselling SUV. But the Ridgeline sank (-45%), and is now Honda’s slowest-selling model.
Acura’s increase was modest but at least it was shared across all models — all, that is, except the hapless ZDX.
CHRYSLER GROUP +23%
Chrysler is defying the trend toward cars and away from trucks, probably because trucks are where its best new products are. Its truck sales are growing faster than car sales, and trucks account for 2 of every 3 Chrysler products sold. With 882 units sold in April, the Fiat 500 isn’t yet significantly affecting Chrysler’s total. Unlike Ford and GM, Chrysler is claiming a reduced dependency on fleet sales, with April deliveries to consumers increasing by 37% over last year.
Chrysler brand fell due to weakness in the 300 (-21%) and the Town & Country (-34%). The 200, however, is selling at twice the pace of the Sebring.
Dodge division’s increase is pretty much all due to the addition of the Durango, although the Avenger (+26%) and the Nitro (!) (+44%) chipped in as well. Surprisingly, the revamped Charger was no help (-5%) nor was the Grand Caravan (-16%).
It’s not just the Grand Cherokee that’s powering Jeep forward, although it is the brand’s bestseller. The improvements visited upon the Compass (+181%) and the Patriot (+93%) have apparently had an effect.
Both the full-size Ram and the mid-size Dakota topped last April by about one-third, but the effect was 10 times greater for the big pickup because of its bigger volume.
HYUNDIA – KIA +47%
Record-breaking numbers for both brands — that pretty much sums it up.
Hyundai’s big increase is all the more impressive because it’s in comparison to such a strong performance in April 2010. The new Elantra doubled sales of its predecessor and accounted for just over one-third of Hyundai brand sales, and because all versions of the Elantra get 40 mpg on the highway, Hyundai was able to claim that 34% of the vehicles it sold in April get 40 mpg. Back in the slow lane, the Equus squeaked past the Azera (yes, Hyundai still makes the Azera) but tallied only 222 sales.
Soul doubled, racking up a second huge month. Optima more than doubled. Sportage nearly tripled. Sorento, Kia’s biggest seller, grew sales by half, as did the Forte. Only the Rio was down (-15%), and it’s about to be replaced.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +12%
Nissan couldn’t keep pace with the market overall in April — and it definitely couldn’t keep up with the zooming Koreans. It got smoked by Hyundai-Kia, and dropped down to 7th place among major automakers.
The Altima looks good (+17%) year over year, but dropped precipitously compared to last month, falling out of the top ten nameplates, when it had been #4 in March. The Sentra (+42%) was able to capitalize on the move to smaller cars but the Versa (-3%) was not. Volume for the new Juke has grown to nearly equal that of the Murano, but Nissan’s most popular truck/SUV remains the Rogue (+28%).
All Infiniti models slipped in April, save the new QX56, which jumped 74%.
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +19%
The new Jetta is still flying out of dealerships (+74%) and the Tiguan (+48%) and CC (+40%) have upped their game as well. VW would have done even better if it had any Passats to sell, but the new model is not in showrooms yet.
The Q5 has finally settled down (+2%) leaving the new A8 and the Q7 (+24%) to push Audi forward.
Bentley sales fell by eight (8) cars in April.
Another good month for the 5-series (+78%), another decline for the 3-series (-15%). The X3 is still doing well, but this month the X5 battled back to judge edge it out as the most popular BMW SUV.
As expected, the Countryman is providing a big boost to Mini, but the other Minis (+23%) are doing OK as well.
44 cars were sold in April, up from 42 last year. Good show.
SUBARU OF AMERICA +7%
Last month we wondered: Is Subaru cooling off? The answer is yes, but only in relation to itself. The 7% increase over last year may be less than the industry average, but Subaru was doing much better than average last year. The company claims that this past month was its best April ever. The Outback continues to lead the charge (+23%). The Impreza provided an assist (+15%) mostly on the back of the WRX and STi. The only cloud in the sky? The Forester slowed again this month (-12%).
After a monster March, the redesigned Mazda5 had a disappointing April (-14%). Instead, it was the crossovers, CX-7 (+28%) and CX-9 (+24%) — and the addition of the Mazda2 — that pushed Mazda into the black. The Mazda3 (-8%) appears to be suffering at the hands of newer competition.
Upticks for the volume sedans, the C-class (+13%) and the E-class (+18%), were the primary factors putting Mercedes-Benz ahead of last year. The M-class (-21%), the R-class (-62%), and the CLS (-78%) were a drag on results.
Even Roger Penske couldn’t make a go of it with Smart, which tells you something. April provides more evidence that he was wise to cut and run.
Five Maybachs were sold in April. Same as last year.
Mitsubishi sales doubled, and it wasn’t just due to the addition of the Outlander Sport. There were fishier aspects as well, like a 6-fold increase in sales of the Eclipse Spyder, and a 10-fold increase in sales of the Endeavor.
The new S60 can claim credit for Volvo’s healthy jump, but it was not the only good news for the Swedish automaker. Both the XC60 and even the aged XC90 increased sales by half, which was enough to offset declines for the smaller cars and the S80 sedan.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +16%
In April, the XJ was once again the best-selling Jag. Once again, the XF and the XK slipped. But they didn’t decline that much, so the XJ was able to give the brand a nice gain overall.
Land Rover +9%
Land Rover couldn’t maintain the momentum of the last two months, although 3 of its 4 models were in the plus column. (No prizes for guessing that the fourth was the LR2.)
The Cayenne looked particularly good coming off a depressed April of 2010. The 911, to a much lesser extent, also gave Porsche a lift. The Panamera, however, dropped 12%.
April saw another nice bump for the Kizashi (+42%) but volumes remain small.
Saab was just trying to pick itself up off the floor last April. Compared to a year-ago figure of 215 units, having sales triple is good, but it’s really just a start. Now that Saab has (perhaps) secured a steady source of financing, the next big milestone will be the addition of the 9-4X, which isn’t yet reflected in these results.
TOP 5 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES in April (and rank last month)
1. Ford F-series 45,435 (#1)
2. Toyota Camry 30,443 (#5)
3. Honda Accord 30,310 (#2)
4. Chevy Silverado 29,342 (#3)
5. Honda Civic 26,777 (#6)
Chevrolet Cruze 25,160
Chevrolet Malibu 24,701
Toyota Corolla/Matrix 24,215
Honda CR-V 21,683
Ford Escape 21,240
Ford Fusion 21,189