U.S. auto sales have been accelerating fairly steadily since the depths of 2009. In February, however, the percentage gain over last year was only 4%. Are sales trailing off? No, but the increases are. The annualized sales pace last month was nearly 15.4 million units, which was just ahead of January. The thing is, last February was pretty strong too; the pace back then also topped 15 million units. So it’s getting harder to notch big percentage increases. The good news is that we’re running at a pretty healthy clip.
Industry analysts site the now-familiar drivers: the cars on the road are old, weak sales in the past few years mean more people are wanting—or needing—a new car, and financing is readily available at low interest rates. A rapidly improving housing market is providing a boost to truck sales, as are generous incentives. Thanks to all that, buyers were able to shrug off distractions like the budget posturing in Washington and some nasty winter snowstorms. When buyers are in a buying mood, they’re going to buy. And at the moment, that appears to be the case.
FEBRUARY 2013 SALES RESULTS, AND PERCENT CHANGE VERSUS FEBRUARY 2012.
GENERAL MOTORS +7%
General Motors’ strength in February was more on the truck side than the car side, but no matter—GM enjoyed its second month of improving market share, with all four brands contributing.
The Verano jumped again, even compared to last month, and is now the bestselling Buick sedan. Unfortunately, that’s partly because Regal sales are collapsing (-44%) and the LaCrosse is also down (-30%). Buick also got a boost with the arrival of the Encore and a gain for the updated Enclave.
Cadillac surged on the strength of the ATS, which was again the bestselling Cadillac sedan, although it hasn’t quite caught the SRX. The aging Escalade was down (-16%), as was the CTS (-44%).
Trucks did it all at Chevrolet, as their 18% increase overcame a 9% drop in car sales. The Silverado (+29%) lead the way, topping 40,000 units. The fleet-only Captiva Sport jumped 69%. The car side was mostly negative, with a notable exception being the Volt (+59%); Chevy’s other gas misers, the Cruze (-12%) and the Sonic (-24%), didn’t fare as well.
A good month for pickup trucks is going to be a good month for GMC, and that’s what we saw in February. Sierra sales rose 25%, but some of those might have come at the expense of the Canyon (-83%). The Terrain (+21%) did well, as did the Yukons.
The F-series crested 50,000 units, buoyed by the housing recovery. The Escape was America’s bestselling SUV, and the Explorer (+67%) had a big month too. The Fusion (+28%) fell 124 cars short of the Honda Accord, just missing the number-two spot among passenger cars. The Focus (-11%) was down slightly.
Saved by Twitter? Looks like no. Lincoln’s Twitter-generated Superbowl ad did nothing to help the MKZ (-62%). The MKS and MKT scratched out small gains, but the overall picture was bleak.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +4%
After a big jump in January, Toyota could only tread water in February, as its year-over-year sales increase exactly matched the market overall.
The Camry was off slightly, but retained bestselling car honors. The Corolla/Matrix (+13%) continues to defy age and gravity, while the Yaris (-43%) can’t catch a break. Most non-car Toyotas were up moderately.
The new ES again did well (+61%) but the new GS did not (-54%).
The addition of the FR-S was just barely enough to overcome sinking sales for all other Scion models, most notably the iQ (-62%).
CHRYSLER GROUP +4%
With the departure of the Liberty, and the Grand Cherokee in changeover mode, Chrysler wasn’t able to outpace the industry but still did manage to beat last year.
With the 300 (-35%) and the Town & Country down (-11%), the 200 (+18%) was the only Chrysler in positive territory.
Like its Chrysler twin, the Avenger (+52%) had a big jump, but here it was joined by increases for the Charger (+41%), the Durango (+38%), and the Challenger (+34%).
The loss of nearly 6000 sales from the discontinued Liberty, and 3000 from the Grand Cherokee, dragged Jeep’s total down. Both situations will soon be remedied, however, with the new Cherokee stepping into the Liberty’s spot, and a 2014 model Grand Cherokee just now being introduced.
The big Ram looked strong but steady.
AMERICAN HONDA -2%
Honda had an unimpressive month, with deliveries down slightly from 2012.
The Accord’s increase (+35%) looks good, and it remained in the number two spot behind the Toyota Camry—but it did so with only a razor-thin margin over the Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima. The revamped Civic actually declined (-16%), as did the CR-V (-17%).
The new RDX nearly tripled year-ago volumes and the ILX added some 2000 units to Acura’s total, but otherwise the news was all bad: MDX (-18%), TL (-31%), TSX (-60%). The new RLX just started trickling into dealerships, so it isn’t yet a significant factor.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA -7%
Nissan showed weakness across much of its lineup this month.
The new Pathfinder continues to far exceed sales of the old model (+146%), and the new Versa was up too (+29%). Otherwise, it was a sea of negative numbers for Nissan in February. Although none were severe, the most damaging were the Rogue (-26%), the Altima (-16%), the Frontier (-35%), and the Murano (-21%).
The addition of 2300 JXs almost but didn’t quite make up for declines in all the other Infiniti models.
The new Santa Fe was up big (+64%) while the Elantra was up small (+17%). Nearly all other Hyundai’s were down. The new Azera is still only a very minor player for Hyundai, with sales that aren’t even one-third those of the Genesis.
The Optima (+14%) was the only Kia to beat its year-ago total. The Sportage suffered the brand’s worst drop (-32%).
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +10%
The Volkswagen Group was able to far outpace the industry last month, but it didn’t do so on the strength of the VW brand, which was up only slightly. Instead, it was Audi and Porsche that powered the group ahead.
Beetle volume has tripled, but VW’s two high-volume cars, the Jetta and the Passat, have cooled.
Q7 sales unexpectedly more than doubled but the Q5 (+57%) was a bigger driver of Audi’s gains. Actually, there were lots of positive numbers in Audi’s results, except for the A3 and the R8.
Porsche’s total jumped by nearly a third, and that’s without any Cayman sales (well, actually, there was one). The big movers were the new Boxster and the Cayenne. The 911 was flat and the Panamera declined (-25%).
Subaru extended its winning streak in February, thanks mostly to the addition of the XV Crosstrek. Other Subaru models were up or down by 10% or less, although the Impreza did slightly worse (-17%).
BMW GROUP -2%
The BMW Group did better than last month but not as well as last year.
The addition of the Gran Coupe is helping grow 6-series volume (+46%). All other BMW sedans fell back, except for the 5-series (+5%). On the SUV side, the X1 helped, although it may have stolen some sales from the X3 (-23%).
Mini Countryman sales rose 28%, which was the exact percentage that sales of the other Minis declined. Because others Minis account for more of the brand’s total, overall volume dropped.
Mazda was down again in February, though not as severely as it was last month. The Mazda2 continues to suffer (-62%), and Mazda6 volumes are depressed by the model changeover. The Mazda5, however, was up by nearly half, and the CX-5 is still looking good.
Where the BMW Group is stagnating, Daimler-Benz continues to power ahead. Mercedes-Benz is now firmly in front of BMW in the first two months of the luxury-brand derby.
Lots of positive numbers in Mercedes-Benz land: +39% for the C-class, +49% for the GLK, +78% for the GL. Of the volume models, only the M-class was down (-20%).
ForTwo sales were about flat but even so they were more than twice those of the Scion iQ.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +18%
With the addition of AWD and smaller engine offerings, both Jaguar sedans clocked a 22% sales increase, but the XK put a damper on the good times with its 26% decline.
Land Rover +20%
The new Range Rover (+38%) and the Evoque (+37%) paced Land Rover’s sales increase. Only the LR4 (-11%) did not participate.
The XC60 (+20%) was Volvo’s only source of good news last month, and unfortunately it wasn’t enough to keep the brand’s sales total from slipping.
TOP 10 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES IN FEBRUARY
1. Ford F-series 54,489
2. Chevrolet Silverado 41,643
3. Toyota Camry 31,270
4. Honda Accord 27,999
5. Ford Fusion 27,875
6. Nissan Altima 27,725
7. Toyota Corolla/Matrix 24,999
8. Ford Escape 24,110
9. Dodge Ram 23,289
10. Honda Civic 22,713