August 2008 Car Sales: Funny, it sure looks like a recession

Of course, the TV talking heads disagree, and former Republican senator Phil Gramm says it’s only in our minds, but the all-too-real auto sales numbers for August speak loud and clear. And they say, “It’s a recession, stupid!”

Zooming fuel prices created a climate of fear earlier in the summer, and panicked buyers all but abandoned their SUVs and pickups idling at the side of the road and ran into dealerships to get themselves a Prius, a Civic, a Corolla, a Fit, or whatever fuel sipper they could get their hands on.

Now that gas prices have stopped climbing – and even mitigated somewhat – buyers aren’t motivated so much by fear. They just aren’t motivated at all. And those that are run up against tougher credit and leasing requirements – epitomized by Chrysler Financial, which has stopped writing leases altogether.

And so the pain is widespread. Nameplates declining twenty percent or more outnumber those posting gains of twenty percent or better by nearly five to one.

Aside from tiny volume players (Maserati, Lotus, Lamborghini, and Rolls-Royce), nearly every single brand saw sales sink in August. That means not just the domestics, but also Toyota, Lexus, Scion, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi, Acura, and more. The following five were the only meaningful exceptions:

Mini. Small cars weren’t as strong as they had been, but they were strong enough to keep this small-car pure play in the black.

Subaru. Up on the strength of the new Forester.

Infiniti. Up thanks to the addition of the EX35.

Volkswagen. The addition of the Tiguan made the difference here.

Nissan. The addition of the Rogue was a major factor, with the remaining boost coming from suspicious jumps in sales of the Frontier and Xterra (both defying year-to-date declines). Incentives, perhaps?

The 5 Best Selling cars for August were:
1. Chevy Silverado
4. Ford F-series

Having a full-size pickup in the top spot feels like normalcy, but the fact that it’s the Silverado handily outselling the F-series for the first time in recent memory has got to be giving Ford fits. Another sign of receding fear is that the Camry and Accord are ahead of the Civic and the (sixth-place) .


Digging deeper, here’s what we find for August. In the interest of brevity, this month we confine ourselves to moves of twenty percent or more. [All figures are percent changes in sales for August 2008 versus August 2007.]

Wall Street jitters hit early
The financial markets’ meltdown didn’t really get going until September, but these financiers’ favorites started slumping ahead of time:
Bentley (all) -37%
Mercedes-Benz M-class -21%
Mercedes-Benz E-class -28%
Mercedes-Benz S-class -31%
Mercedes-Benz CL-class -34%
Mercedes-Benz R-class -55%
Mercedes-Benz CLK-class -55%
Mercedes-Benz CLS-class -56%
Jaguar (all) -26%
Infiniti M -26%
Lexus GS -27%
Lexus SC -37%
Lexus LS -44%

Pass the vodka, Sven
Saab and Volvo continue to live in a world of hurt. For Volvo, the only bright spot was the C30. For Saab, there was no bright spot.
Saab 9-3 -49%
Saab 9-5 -52%
Saab 9-7X -53%
Volvo V50 -53%
Volvo S40 -65%

Some small cars stumble
As the gas panic subsides, not every small car enjoys gains.Chevy Aveo -21%
-25% (if you can’t get ’em, you can’t sell ’em)
Chevy Cobalt -27%
Volkswagen Rabbit -36%
Dodge Caliber –57%
Chrysler PT Cruiser -65% (the end of factory leases had to hurt here)

Thirsty SUVs, still a tough sell
Lexus GX570 -20%
VW Touareg -25%
Chevy Suburban -34%
Infiniti QX56 -35%
GMC Envoy -44%
(all) -44%
Chrysler Aspen -47%
XL -48%
Hummer H2 -56%
Land Rover (all) -57%
Toyota FJ Cruiser -61%
Hummer H3 -64%
Jeep Commander -66%
Dodge Nitro -71%
Mercury Mountaineer -73%

Crossovers are not immune . . .
-23% (and this is a new model)
Mazda CX-7 -28%
Mitsubishi Endeavor -44%
Mazda Tribute -48%
Chevy Equinox -65%
Pontiac Torrent -66%
X -66% (the Flex is likely stealing sales here)
Hyundai Veracruz -68%
Suzuki XL7 –80%

. . . even small ones
Chevy HHR -32%
Suzuki Grand Vitara -42%
Saturn Vue -46%

Pickup pain, less widespread than might be expected
Dodge Ram -23% (no leases, but 40% off sticker!)
Lincoln Mark LT -27%
Chevy Colorado -37%
Ford F-series -42%
Mazda B-series -63%
Mitsubishi Raider -77%
Dodge Dakota -78%

Sports cars and sporty cars spin out
Are they the wrong ride in a time of pessimism?
Mazda RX-8 -23%
Mitsubishi Eclipse -27%
Pontiac Solstice -30% (the Saturn Sky was also down)
Nissan 350Z -34%
Hyundai Tiburon -40%
Honda S2000 -44% (being old doesn’t help)
-51% (the one BMW in a serious slump)

Somnambulant sedans
These cars can’t capitalize on the move away from trucks.
Mazda 6 -21%
Mitsubishi Galant -23%
Ford Taurus -24%
Lincoln Town Car -27%
Cadillac DTS -28%
Saturn Aura -31%
Buick Lucerne -31%
VW Passat -31%
Mercury Sable -38%
Acura RL -39%
Mercury Milan -40%
Dodge Avenger -41%
Chrysler Sebring -46%
Cadillac STS -52%
-59% (once so hot, now so cold)
Pontiac G6 –62% (includes coupe and convertible too)

Minivans in the can
Hyundai Entourage -70%
Chevy Uplander –80%


The allure of the new
Redesigned models comprise the largest group of vehicles posting significant gains.
Infiniti FX +27%
Mercedes-Benz C-class +53% (definitely the shining star in Mercedes’ lineup)
+238% (on very small volume, it must be said)

Small is still swell
Not as swell as it was two months ago, but these gas savers are still trending positive.
+23% (it’s new, too)
VW Jetta +29%
Mini Cooper +34%
Pontiac Vibe +95% (bolstered by a redesign)
Suzuki SX4 +133% (with the addition of a sedan body style)

Defying gravity
Chevy Impala +21%
Mazda 5 +40%
Chevy Corvette +47% (ZR1 stokes the fires)
+77% (one of 3 Nissans suddenly posting a huge month after a long, year-to-date decline)


Buying Guide
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2008 Chevrolet Silverado

2008 Chevrolet Silverado

MSRP $24,660 1500 LT 2WD Short Bed Regular Cab


13 City / 18 Hwy

Payload (Max):

3,892 lbs.

Horse Power:

353 @ 5400