New-car sales were again solidly over the 14-million-unit annual rate in April, in another sign that the auto industry’s nascent recovery has taken hold. GM joined Ford and Toyota in raising its forecast for full-year sales to the low 14-million range. That pace is up nicely from last year’s 12.8 million, 2010’s 11.6 million, and to 10.4 million total from recession-wracked 2009. However, it’s still not quite at pre-crash levels, which often reached 16 million units.
And it doesn’t look like we’re going to get there, as things appear to be leveling off. April sales were up only 2% over last year’s relatively strong April (although 2012 figures are dampened somewhat because there were 3 fewer selling days than in April 2011). Some carmakers, like GM and Ford, were down slightly; and those that were up, like Chrysler and Hyundai-Kia, saw smaller increases than they had in recently months.
Looking at 2012 so far, it’s clear that the spring selling season arrived early, along with the warm weather in much of the country. “The spring we have waited four years for is finally here,” said Automobile Magazine president Jean Jennings at a gathering of industry bigwigs in April, and she was right.
Interestingly, gasoline prices that in many areas have topped $4 a gallon do not appear to be dragging down new-car sales the way they did in 2008. In fact, some auto executives have suggested that they may instead be spurring sales, as buyers seek to replace their current vehicle with a more efficient new model. We’ll see whether that dynamic holds, as gas prices are unlikely to mitigate in the run-up to summer driving season.
APRIL 2012 SALES RESULTS, AND PERCENT CHANGE VERSUS APRIL 2011.
GENERAL MOTORS -8%
General Motors sales declined in April for the first time this year. GMC was the only division to better its year-ago performance. Buick and Cadillac continued the downtrend, and Chevrolet flipped from positive to negative this month. GM laid the blame on a reduction in fleet sales, claiming that retail sales were essentially flat.
After a monster month last April, the Cruze (-28%), Malibu (-11%), and Impala (-29%) all dropped. Chevrolet also lost 6222 sales with the departure of the HHR, although it gained half of those back with the fleet-only Captive Sport SUV. In better news, the Sonic is solidly outselling the old Aveo, and most of the trucks were in positive territory.
Strength in trucks is obviously good for GMC, where the Sierra (+20%) and the Canyon (+27%) saw the most growth.
The Verano continues to grow volume, and outsold the Regal (-37%) in April. All other Buicks declined.
The CTS was flat, and that was the best news at Cadillac. The division’s fortunes are unlikely to change before the new ATS and XTS sedans arrive later this year.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY -5%
Ford slipped in April, and almost lost its second-place position to resurgent Toyota. The winding down of the Crown Victoria, the Ranger, and the Town Car, none of which are being replaced, is a stealth drag on volume.
Ford claimed best ever April sales for the Fusion (+2%) but the nameplate still dropped from the number seven spot last month to tenth overall. The F-series (+4%) remained solidly number one but the Escape (-16%) is finally slowing down heading into its model changeover.
The MKS (+57%) managed a second monthly gain of better than 50 percent, and the MKT (+43%) was up as well. The loss of the Town Car hurts, though, and the MKZ (-27%) is weakening.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +12%
Toyota posted another market-beating increase in April, and expect to see more in the months ahead as current totals compare favorable with last year’s tsunami-diminished volumes. The recovery is slower, however, at Lexus, which improved to flat, and Scion, which slipped.
The new Camry (+21%) couldn’t match its standout March, but it once again outpaced its rivals and tucked in behind the Ford F-series as the second-bestselling nameplate in the land. The other big Toyota news was the Prius, which doubled, pushing it past the Corolla/Matrix and putting it in the top five nameplates for the first time; remember that the Prius is no longer just one model, but three: Prius, Prius V, Prius C.
The new GS added some 2000 units to the Lexus monthly total, but it couldn’t overcome losses from the aging ES (-14%), LS (-44%), and the RX (-12%).
The tiny iQ contributed 962 units to Scion’s volume in April, but it wasn’t enough to offset declines for all three other models. The FR-S doesn’t arrive until next month.
CHRYSLER GROUP +20%
April saw another in a long string of sales increases for Chrysler, but this one wasn’t as big as previous ones. Also, industry analysts say that the company’s incentive spending is the highest of any automaker.
All three Chrysler models enjoyed significant gains in April, but the 300 (+138%) was far out in front.
Dodge is winding down both the Nitro and the Caliber, which put a crimp on its total. The Durango (-36%), however, had no such excuse. The biggest increases came from the Avenger (+47%) and the Journey (+29%).
The formerly hot Compass lost its bearings in April (-20%) but all other Jeep models increased, lead by the Wrangler (+35%).
The big Ram enjoyed another 20k-plus month.
Once again, Fiat set a new monthly sales record, this time with 3849 cars.
AMERICAN HONDA -5%
Honda was down slightly in April, as it was in March, but there were some bright spots, starting with a move back into fifth place overall. After falling off the Top-10 chart last month, the Honda Accord vaulted all the way up to the number three spot. And Acura finally had a positive month.
After getting pummeled by fleet-fattened competitors (as Honda insiders contend), the Accord (+26%) bounced back, big time. The CR-V (+9%) looks like a smash hit, and is the bestselling SUV in the land. Honda’s fuel misers, however, have failed to capitalize on high gas prices: Fit (-61%), Insight (-72%), and CR-Z (-82%).
The new RDX (+48%) almost singlehandedly pushed Acura ahead. Next month, the new ILX can lend a hand, with the RL replacement also due soon. But what will save the ZDX (-60%)?
What’s this? Hyundai-Kia sales did NOT grow faster than the industry average? Both divisions were in positive territory, but just barely, as the Koreans took a bit of a breather.
Despite the addition of the Veloster, and nice increases for the Accent (+40%) and the Genesis (+34%), Hyundai had a decidedly unspectacular April, dragged down by the Elantra (-24%) and to a lesser degree by the Sonata (-6%). It’s worth noting, however, that Hyundai claims to have the lowest incentive spending in the industry.
The Optima (+69%) and the Rio (+56%) could only do so much in the face of Kia’s lagging SUVs and minivan: Sportage (-31%), Sorento (20%), and Sedona (-15%).
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +0%
Nissan’s April sales were flat, and it fell to seventh place overall.
Nissan’s record sales of 41,050 Altimas last month proved unsurprisingly unsustainable, and Altima sales were less than half that in April — although a new version is right around the corner. The Versa (+30%), had another good month, but sales of the Cube have collapsed (-69%) and the Leaf is running at about one-fifth the volume of the Chevy Volt. Things were better on the truck side, thanks to the Quest (+96%), the Frontier (+22%), the Pathfinder (+27%), and the Titan (+25%).
Even as all other Infiniti models declined in April, the arrival of the JX pushed the division’s total into the black.
The C-class (+23%) gave passenger-car sales a push, but the bigger action was on the truck side, with new M-class (+54%) and the not-so-new GL (+71%). Let’s not forget the Sprinter (76%), which is threatening to overtake the GLK. Meanwhile, it’s a race to the bottom between the R-class (131 units, down 33%) and the G-class (82 units, off 7%).
Suddenly Smart? The dinky two-seater seems to be benefitting from increased fuel prices.
Maybach sales surged, with 4 cars sold, versus 3 last April. Maybe the brand deserves a reprieve.
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +27%
All three members of the Volkswagen Group outpaced the market, racking up nice gains in March.
Passat sales jumped by 2000 cars per month in the first three months of the year, but have now leveled off at around 10,000 units. Still, that alone accounts for VW’s year-over-year increase. Add in the volume of the reintroduced Beetle, and VW can easily shrug off declines in the Tiguan (-16%), the CC (-64%), and even the Jetta (-8%).
The new A6 doubled weak, year-ago numbers; and that, together with the addition of the A7, supplied a good chunk of the Audi momentum. The SUVs also helped, while the A8 (-29%) looked the weakest.
BMW GROUP +6%
In the battle against Mercedes-Benz to retain its newly won luxury-brand sales crown, BMW suffered at bit of a setback in April, as its 12% gain wasn’t enough to stay ahead of its rival. Still, BMW outpaced the industry, although Mini was a drag on sales of the group.
The 3-series (+21%), the X5 (+51%), and the 6-series (+93%) enjoyed the biggest sales increases. In the negative column we find the struggling 1-series (-38%), the 7-series (-32%), and, that’s right, the X6 (-22%).
Both the regular Minis and the Countryman declined slightly this month.
The new Impreza (+87%) is looking strong, and is threatening to overtake the Outback (-10%) as the brand’s bestselling car. Both the Forester (-16%) and the Legacy (-4%) also dropped a bit.
The CX-5 is now easily the most popular Mazda crossover, besting the CX-7 (-52%) and CX-9 (-45%) combined. The aging Mazda6 (+38%) and the Miata (+5%) provided the only other good news, while the Mazda5 (-31%) and the Mazda2 (-23%) both sank.
On the Mitsubishi roller coaster, it was the Galant’s turn to climb (+181%), while it was all downhill for the Eclipse (-89%), as well as the Outlander (-29%) and the Outlander Sport (-15%). Oh, and 79 copies of the “i” car were sold.
There was red ink all over the place at Volvo, with every single model lower than last year save for the XC60, and that was up only 3%.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +3%
After a big uptick last month, Jaguar swooned in April, with all three models falling.
Land Rover +10%
The Evoque is making this year better than last for Land Rover, but the other two Range Rovers and the LR4 all dropped this month.
After a puzzling decline last month, the new 911 came roaring back in April (+69%), outselling the Panamera! The Cayenne (-13%), however, remains the bestselling Porsche. Unsurprisingly, Boxster volume (36 units) has all but dried up as buyers await the new version.
Suzuki dropped 17%, with all four models down.
TOP 10 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES IN APRIL
1. Ford F-series 47,453
2. Toyota Camry 36,820
3. Honda Accord 35,385
4. Chevrolet Silverado 30,749
5. Toyota Prius 25,168
6. Toyota Corolla/Matrix 24,804
7. Honda Civic 24,423
8. Honda CR-V 23,627
9. Chevrolet Malibu 21,906
10. Ford Fusion 21,610