Maybe it was those Superbowl ads. Or, more likely, it was the release of some pent-up demand-particularly on the truck side, where business owners last year had all but shut down new-vehicle purchasing. After a fairly healthy start in January, sales acceleratd to a seasonally adjusted annual clip of better than 13 million units, which is better than we’ve seen in the last two years, save for during the Cash-for-Clunkers giveaway in summer 2009. Overall, the industry bettered the sluggish pace of last February (2010’s weakest month) by 27%.
The only clouds on the horizon are gasoline prices, which have just touched $4 a gallon in the bellwether state of California. In 2008, $4-a-gallon gasoline is what first tripped up the auto industry; now that most manufacturers have stronger small-car offerings, we’ll see if higher fuel prices (should they take hold) cause the industry to stumble again, or whether it can dance around that obstacle.
FEBRUARY SALES RESULTS, and percent change versus February 2010
GENERAL MOTORS +50% (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC only)
General Motors boasted an eye-popping 50% increase over February 2010, although keep in mind that last February was particularly horrid for GM, when the company actually ceded the number one spot to Ford. This month, trucks particularly did well, and the company also benefitted from increased leasing.
Pickups are back-not just the Silverado (+60%), but even the Colorado, which doubled. Old-school SUVs increased (Suburban +42%, Tahoe +52%), but new-school crossovers did even better: Traverse +62%, Equinox +92%. On the car side, the Cruze is handily beating Cobalt volumes, and came within spitting distance of the aging Honda Civic.
The Lucerne doubled year-ago sales, but is still the least-popular Buick sedan. Most of Buick’s additional sales came from the addition of the Regal, which sits exactly in between the LaCrosse and the Lucerne in sale volume.
Sales of the CTS more than doubled and, less impressively, so did those of the ancient DTS. The SRX is now easily outselling the Escalade (all of them) by better than 2 to 1.
A good month for trucks is a good month for GMC. And indeed, Yukon sales doubled, and the Terrain (+90%) and the Sierra (+86%) came close.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +20% (excluding Volvo and Mercury)
Ford’s overall gain doesn’t look so impressive, but Ford actually did rather well this time last year (when it briefly took the top spot, beating both Toyota and GM), so it’s harder to make a huge jump.
The F-series posted only a modest gain (+14%) despite the truck fervor, but the Fusion (+40%) was on fire, passing the Honda Accord to take the #5 spot in the overall sales race. The Fiesta outsold the slipping Taurus (-12%), while Explorer sales more than doubled.
There was a little good news in Lincoln land (MKX +13%, Navigator +14%), but it was more than offset by the decline for the MKS, which fell by half.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +42%
Toyota may finally be shaking off the hangover from its recall nightmare of 2010, which stayed with the Japanese automaker through the whole of last year. Speaking of those recalls, February 2010 was the month the company actually had to suspend new-car sales, so the awfulness of its year-ago sales artificially inflates the year-over-year percentage gain.
A huge month for the Camry (+64%, and nearly 10,000 better than January), Corolla/Matrix (+52%), Highlander (+139%) and the Sienna (+118%) helped Toyota bounce back big from its year-ago numbers. Surprisingly, the Venza (-25%), FJ Cruiser (-17%), and Yaris (-53%) managed to do worse this year than last.
Sales of the HS250h have collapsed (-74%), while the mainstay ES (+11%) and RX (+15%) both scratched out increases.
The new tC nearly doubled, but the more surprising result was that the xD was able to reverse its recent downtrend (+29%).
AMERICAN HONDA +22%
Honda didn’t quite match the overall market gain, but then again, Honda wasn’t in the same depths of despair one year ago.
The Accord is sort of stagnating (+2%), albeit still with nearly 23,000 units sold (8000 more than January), so it’s not exactly a crisis. Still, it did fall out of the Top 5 nameplates (to #6). The CR-V (+61%) was the major engine of Honda’s growth.
The RDX (+58%), MDX (+18%), and the TSX (+32%) each added roughly 600 units to their previous count, pushing Acura ahead.
CHRYSLER LLC +13%
It’s all trucks and SUVs pulling Chrysler forward, but it’s still a disappointing month overall.
Car sales weighed Chrysler down. Not so much the loss of the PT Cruiser, but plunging 300 sales (-71%) and also the new 200, which can’t match the volumes of the old Sebring.
The addition of the Durango (with modest sales of 2731 units, better than the Nitro but far below the Journey) didn’t help Dodge, mostly because Charger sales took a swan dive (-69%) despite the handsome redesign.
Jeep looked strong across the board, with the Grand Cherokee and the Liberty both adding some 2000 units, and the Patriot and Wrangler adding more than 1000. The Compass (+19%) was weaker by comparison. Oh, and the Commander apparently has been relieved of its duty.
Big Ram pickup sales shot up (+82%)-as did those of the Dakota (+85%), but on one-tenth the volume.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +32%
Nissan outpaced the industry in February, mostly due to results on the car, not the truck, side.
It wasn’t the new entries that made the difference here-only 12 NV vans were sold, and just 67 Leafs (Leaves?), although the Juke racked up nearly 3000 sales. Instead, look to the continuing models, particularly the cars. February was another 20,000-plus month for the Altima, and the Sentra suddenly popped up (+62%). The Maxima (+0%) and the Versa (-9%) went nowhere, though. The Titan (-15%) didn’t participate in the pickup bull market, but the Rogue (+86%) successfully rode the crossover wave.
A good month for the G (+39%) was the most important factor here, but all models save the EX35 were in the plus column.
The Koreans picked up a bit more market share in February, thanks this time to Kia.
The Sonata doubled last-year’s volume and the new Elantra (+54%) is kicking into gear. Only the Santa Fe (-46%) is really underperforming.
Another big month for Kia, with the Soul up 86%, Optima sales doubling, and the new Sportage selling at nearly four times the rate of its weak predecessor.
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +20%
The new Jetta had its first big month (+61%) while the New Beetle (-85%) is finally winding down. The CC (+68%) and the Tiguan (+29%) also gave VW a boost.
Audi’s gains were mostly at the top end: The A8 soared (by a factor of 10 over last year), the R8 nearly tripled, and the Q7 was up 103%. The first two, though, were coming off previous February sales of 34 units. In the larger-volume models, the Q5 had a nice gain (+45%) but the A4 (+4%) disappointed.
Bentley’s +6% translated to +6 cars.
What’s not new: another year-over-year sales increase for Subaru. What is new: that increase didn’t quite keep pace with the industry overall, meaning Subaru actually lost a bit of market share. Can’t blame the Outback (+29%) or the Impreza (+40%), instead cast your eyes toward the Forester, whose sales were flat.
BMW GROUP +11%
The new X3 outsold the old model by a factor of 6, but there are probably more gains to come, as it hasn’t yet reached X5 volume. On the car side, the slipping 3-series (-29%) wiped out the gains for the surging 5-series.
Mini would have declined were it not for the arrival of the Countryman.
Two more plutocrats bought a Rolls-Royce in February 2011 than in February 2010.
Mazda’s increase wasn’t enough to maintain market share, as the 3 disappointed (-2%). What gains there were came from the crossovers-CX-7 (+31%), CX-9 (+43%)-the 6 sedan (+17%), and the addition of the Mazda2.
The SL and SLK enjoyed an inexplicable surge, but otherwise there were no big mover under the three-pointed star. A modest increase for the M-class was offset by a modest decline for its smaller sibling, the GLK.
A second-in-a-row up month for Smart-only by 42 cars, but Smart needs to take good news wherever it can find it.
Go, Mitsubishi! The Outlander Sport added nearly 1300 sales; the rest of the uptick came from the Galant (huh?). Unfortunately, the Outlander, Lancer, and Endeavor all declined.
The arrival of the S60 and the new XC60 are keeping Volvo afloat, as the XC90 is stagnant and all the other cars have fallen off big-time.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +16%
The XJ is now outselling the XF, which is good news and bad news. It’s good news because the XJ is (presumably) more profitable. It’s bad news because XF sales have fallen by half.
Land Rover +26%
The LR4 (+82%) was the big mover for Land Rover, with the Range Rovers up too. The LR2, however, declined.
All four Porsche models outdid their year-ago numbers, but none more so than the redesigned Cayenne (+56%), whose sales are now outstripping the Panamera-and the 911-two to one.
The Kizashi enjoyed a 60% gain, and Suzuki also got some help from the Grand Vitara (+27%) and the Equator pickup (+108%).
Saab sold 546 cars last month, versus 97 a year ago when GM had essentially pulled the plug and was waiting for it to expire. So, that’s a big percentage increase but volume actually slipped a bit versus January.
TOP 5 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES (and rank last month)
1. F-series 37,549 (#1)
2. Silverado 31,728 (#2)
3. Camry 27,212 (#4)
4. Corolla/Matrix 25,860 (#3)
5. Fusion 23,111 (#9)
6. Accord 22,916
7. Altima 20,808
8. Civic 19,121
9. Malibu 19,092
10. Ram 18,644