Whereas January proved better than expected — and expectations were pretty optimistic given that 2011 ended on a high note — February was practically gangbusters. At the start of the year, most analysts were predicting that sales for 2012 would come in somewhere in the 13 million-unit range. The pace in January was over 14 million. That was good, but February was even better, touching 15 million units. That compares to 12.8 million new cars and trucks sold in 2011. If auto sales can maintain that pace — and that’s a big if — it would mean the industry has fully recovered from the 2008 crash.
Delving a bit deeper into the February numbers, we see good results across the board, with no serious laggards. With gasoline prices shooting up towards month end, it’s perhaps no surprise to see particularly strong sales among small cars. But if gasoline prices continue to spike, it could choke off new-car demand overall, and end this party just as it’s getting started.
FEBRUARY 2012 SALES RESULTS, AND PERCENT CHANGE VERSUS FEBRUARY 2011.
(One quick note on percentage increases: These are raw February-to-February comparisons, which don’t take into account the fact that February 2012 had one extra day due to leap year.)
GENERAL MOTORS +1%
After slipping last month, General Motors managed — just barely — to move into positive territory in February, and it was all Chevrolet. Buick and Cadillac were both down again, and GMC improved to flat.
Small cars did well again this month, with the Cruze topping the 20,000-unit mark and the Sonic more than doubling sales of the old Aveo. But trucks contributed as well, with some of the lesser lights — Suburban, Colorado, big vans, and the Avalanche — seeing the biggest percentage gains. Oh, and the Volt had another 4-figure sales month.
Most GMC SUVs fell but commercial favorites like the big vans and the Canyon offset that.
The new Verano has arrived, but it isn’t yet making up for the departing Lucerne. Of the continuing models, the LaCrosse was up (+21%) but the Regal (-29%) and the Enclave (-20%) were down.
An ugly month for Cadillac saw every model below year-ago levels.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +14%
A good month for the F-series makes for a good month for the Ford division, and a good month for the Ford division makes for a good month for Ford Motor Company. But February was about more than just the F-series; Ford cars actually outpaced the increase in Ford truck sales. And Lincoln also chipped in too, for a change.
The F-series (+26%) added the most volume, but the Focus enjoyed the biggest percentage increase, and was the bestselling non-F-series Ford. The Mustang doubled its weak, year ago figure. The Fiesta declined (-12%) despite the popularity of small cars in general, and the Taurus (-23%) and Flex (-15%) were once again in the negative column.
All Lincolns, save the discontinued Town Car, were up in February. The MKS (+51%) increased the most, percentage-wise.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +12%
Toyota is accelerating its increases over last year — a trend we expect will continue, not only due to growing sales but also because last year Toyota didn’t really fall off a cliff until the tsunami in April, so their year-over-year comparisons will soon look a lot more dramatic.
The redesigned Camry (+27%) was once again the second-best-selling nameplate in all the land, displacing the Chevy Silverado from its traditional spot. The Avalon (+73%) and the Yaris (+86%) enjoyed big increases, while the Prius was up by half. Things were less happy on the truck side, where the Highlander, Sienna, Tundra, 4Runner, and Land Cruiser all declined.
Lexus finally had its turnaround month, thanks mostly to the arrival of the new GS. The added volume from the CT also helped. Working against that most seriously were the RX (-12%) and the GX (-33%).
You can thank the iQ for Scion’s sales growth in February. The tiny iQ also squirted past the xD this month.
CHRYSLER GROUP +40%
Again in February, Chrysler sales grew at the fastest rate of all the major automakers. The Chrysler brand led the way, paced by the 300, but all brands were on the upswing.
Sales of the 300 were up nearly five-fold, and the 200 wasn’t far behind. Even the Town & Country, aided by no-charge leather and DVD, moved back into the plus column.
The increases at Dodge weren’t as dramatic as those as Chrysler, with the Charger merely doubling (+125%, more accurately) and the Avenger (+89%) doing almost as well. The Grand Caravan (+20%), Challenger (+14%), Journey (+28%), and Durango (+26%) were up less dramatically. The Caliber (-46%), though, is fading out; time to send in the Dart!
A hefty increase for the Grand Cherokee (+47%) and lesser ones for the rest of the line kept Jeep well in the black.
The big Ram pickup had another big month, and was the 8th most popular nameplate overall. But the Dakota (-92%) is nearly dead.
Fiat sales increased by better than half compared to January, and the Abarth is still to arrive.
AMERICAN HONDA +12%
Like Toyota, Honda continues to make progress climbing out of the morass of 2011.
The aging Accord (-2%) continues to fare poorly, and was once again crowded out of the top ten nameplates. But elsewhere, the news was quite good, starting with the Civic (+42%), which was the bestselling small car and the number 5 nameplate overall. The redesigned CR-V (+30%) was number 6, and the bestselling SUV. The worst drop was suffered by the CR-Z (-57%).
As was the case last month, the TL (+31%) and the TSX (+21%) overcame the weakness in the rest of the Acura lineup.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +16%
Nissan’s 16% growth was enough to keep it in place between American Honda and the Koreans. As usual, Nissan division did pretty much all the heavy lifting.
The Altima (+58%) was absolutely on fire, reaching the number 3 spot overall, in a big month for midsize cars. Other winners for Nissan were the Rogue (+18%), the Maxima (+24%), and the Frontier (+20%). Most worrisome was the Cube (-69%).
The QX (+29%) had another up month while the EX (-38%) slipped and the sedans were stagnant.
HYUNDAI – KIA +26%
Led this time by Kia, the Koreans once again handily outpaced the industry overall. But they remained behind Nissan, in sixth place among the major automakers.
The Sonata (+11%), the Accent (+29%), and the Elantra (+29%) led the charge for Hyundai, with a major assist from the Veloster. The Veracruz (-19%) and the Santa Fe (-10%) drifted lower.
There’s no prize for guessing that the Optima (+139%) set the pace at Kia, although the Rio (+94%) wasn’t far behind. The updated Soul (+63%) continues on a roll. As at Hyundai, the SUVs were less impressive; both the Sorento and the Sportage declined.
The fashionable CLS is outselling last season’s model by a factor of 5, and the new SLK is selling at twice the rate of the old. Also making waves is the new M-class (+77%), but the formerly hot C-class (+17%) has cooled a bit, likely due to fresh competition from the BMW 3-Series. Also suffering are the CL coupe (-24%) and the GLK (-12%).
Despite having nothing new, Smart somehow enjoyed an uptick in sales.
4 Maybachs were sold versus 3 previously. Sudden interest from collectors?
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +34%
Last month, the Passat bolstered VW’s total by about 6000 units; this month, it was better than 8000. The redesigned Beetle is far outselling its predecessor but is still only about half the volume of the Golf/GTI. The CC (-39%) suffered the biggest drop.
The new A6 (+64%) continues to ring the register at Audi, along with the A7. The A3 (+22%) has swung to the plus side but the Q7 (-50%) suddenly dropped.
BMW GROUP +31%
After BMW’s narrow victory over Mercedes-Benz in the luxury-car derby last year, Mercedes jumped out into the lead in January but BMW was ahead in February. It appears that we’re setting up for another close race.
The new 3-series (sedan) has arrived, and its presence is felt, as 3-series sales jumped 66%. The 6-series also was hot, as was the revamped X3 (+43%). All SUVs, in fact were up; the only downers were the 5-series (-4%) and the 1-series (-30%).
In a particularly egalitarian effort, both the regular Minis and the Countryman jumped by better than 40%.
Small cars made big news at Mazda: both the suddenly hot Mazda2 (which tripled its year-ago sales) and the Skyactiv-enhanced Mazda3 (+40%). The Mazda6 (+80%) pitched in as well, but all SUVs and the Mazda5 minivan declined. The new CX-5, just starting to trickle into dealerships, isn’t yet a factor.
The new Impreza is off to an impressive start at Subaru, up 85%. The Legacy and the Outback showed modest growth, but the Forester (-12%) is starting to weaken.
The S60 (+55%) remains the Scandinavian powerhouse, with a surprise assist from the aging XC90 (+33%). The equally aged S80, however, is looking pretty arthritic (-37%).
Eclipse sales have all but dried up (121 units sold) and so far, the battery-powered i car (44 units) isn’t exactly riding to the rescue. If it weren’t for the Outlander (+18%) and the Outlander Sport (+7%), it would have been all bad news this month.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +32%
The arrival of the XK-RS help triple sales of Jaguar’s grand tourer, and the XF (+84%) enjoyed a sudden spike in interest as well.
Land Rover +27%
The Evoque has become the second-bestselling Land Rover, behind the Range Rover Sport. The rest of the lineup mirrored last month, with the LR4 and the Range Rover down, while the LR2 was up.
Subaru pulled up out of last month’s nosedive, with help from all corners of the lineup. The biggest contributions came from the most important quarters: the SX4 (+54%) and the Kizashi (+77%).
No surprise: The new 911 saw a dramatic increase in sales (+112%). Big surprise: That made it the bestselling Porsche model. Hurrah!
TOP 10 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES IN FEBRUARY
1. Ford F-series 47,273
2. Toyota Camry 34,542
3. Nissan Altima 32,953
4. Chevrolet Silverado 32,297
5. Honda Civic 27,087
6. Honda CR-V 24,759
7. Ford Focus 23,350
8. Dodge Ram 22,595
9. Toyota Corolla/Matrix 22,148
10. Ford Fusion 21,773