After the strong finish to 2011, auto industry insiders were looking ahead to 2012 with great expectations. All were predicting a year of higher sales — for their own companies, naturally, but also for the industry overall. Most estimates were that sales could grow from 12.8 million units in 2011 to well into the 13 million-unit range in 2012. The January figures are now in, and in the first month of the new year, we’re actually on a pace to top the 14 million mark. Sales were up by 11% over January 2011 and yet incentive spending has pretty much held steady. Another few months like this and analysts will have to revise their estimates upward.
JANUARY 2012 SALES RESULTS, AND PERCENT CHANGE VERSUS JANUARY 2011.
GENERAL MOTORS -6%
In a rising market, General Motors sales declined compared to last January, but the company’s year-ago totals were inflated by pull-ahead lease deals. All four GM brands declined, even with more fleet sales in the mix. The bright spot was Chevrolet car sales, led by small cars like the Cruze and the Sonic (which is selling as twice the rate of the Aveo). Most worrisome was the decline at Cadillac.
Aside from the aforementioned Sonic and Cruze, Chevy’s midsize cars did pretty well in January (the fleet favorite Impala even snuck into the top ten), but trucks dropped a bit. Most serious were the Traverse (-23%) and the Tahoe (-24%) although the latter was somewhat offset by the Suburban (+25%).
Usually GMC’s and Chevrolet’s sister models move in sync, but the GMC version of the Suburban, the Yukon XL (-30%) diverged from the Chevy this month; similarly, while the Equinox was up, the Terrain (-11%) declined. Compact pickups, however, perked up for both brands but more so for GMC (Canyon, +53%).
Cadillac’s across-the-board declines hit the CTS (-31%) and the Escalades (-28%); only the SRX (-2%) was relatively unscathed.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +7%
Ford’s modest overall increase was driven by an outsized contribution from the new Focus and the not-so-new Escape, both of which got a push in January. Unfortunately, Ford’s percentage gain was exactly matched by Lincoln’s percentage decline, which is mostly due to the loss of the Town Car.
The Escape (+24%) continues to go out in a blaze of incentive-fueled glory; it was Ford’s bestselling nameplate behind the F-series. A big Focus effort paid off (+60%) but at some cost to the Fiesta (-18%) and perhaps the Fusion (-5%) as well.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +8%
Toyota was off to a good, but not great, start in its attempt to put the nightmare year of 2011 behind it. The new Camry is firing on all cylinders, which helped Toyota power ahead, but Lexus suffered a decline.
A powerhouse month for the Camry (+56%) was enough to overtake the Chevy Silverado and become the number two nameplate overall. Surprisingly, none of that success came at a cost to the Avalon (+79%). The new Yaris (+64%) is also looking strong. There’s still weakness on the truck side, from the Highlander (-9%), to the RAV4 (-12%), to the 4Runner (-24%). As at GM, compact pickups (Tacoma, +25%) were a bright spot.
The xD was up slightly while the tC and xB were down. The tiny iQ sold a tiny 374 units.
CHRYSLER GROUP +44%
Another month, another big increase in Chrysler sales. Outpacing the industry overall by a factor of 4, Chrysler has been pulling up steeply out of the sales swamp for the better part of two years. The company is still leaning on fleet sales, at about 30% of the total, but otherwise thing are looking pretty good.
When we talk about fleet sales, we naturally think of the 200, especially when we see that it has become the bestselling Chrysler model. The 300, though, is also way up (+273%), while the Town & Country continues to slide (-14%).
A very good month for the big pickup, but the Dakota (-81%) is slipping away.
1911 Fiats were sold in January, which less than half the pace that had been predicted right about this time last year.
HONDA MOTOR COMPANY +9%
Last year was every bit as nightmarish for Honda as it was for Toyota, but the company claims to finally be back to full production, and started off the year with a nice increase.
The Civic (+50%) is finally showing strength but the Accord (+2%) was passed by a slew of competitors, including the Altima, the Sonata, the Impala and the Malibu. The new CR-V was up (+16%) as was the previously comatose Ridgeline (+46%).
The TL (+43%) and the TSX (+17%) allowed Acura to overcome weakness in the rest of the lineup.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +10%
Much like the situation at Toyota, Nissan enjoyed an increase for its mainstream brand but saw its luxury nameplate decline.
The Altima’s huge month (+36%) almost singlehandedly accounted for Nissan’s increase over last January. Elsewhere, the Maxima (+27%) was up, but the Sentra (-26%) was down. The Cube (-72%) has gone cold and the Juke (-25%) seems on a path to follow it.
The QX56 (+30%) was the sole source of good news at Infiniti.
HYUNDAI MOTOR AMERICA +20%
The Elantra (+13%), the Sonata (+9%), and the Genesis (+29%) all showed modest increases — for Hyundai — and the Veloster chipped in 1693 units. All crossovers were up, even the aging Veracruz (+27%) and Santa Fe (+9%).
The Optima (+131%) was the driving force this month with an impressive assist by the Soul (+51%), which already several years old, and by the new Rio (+170%). The Sportage (-6%) and the Sorento (-10%) weakened slightly.
January was a very good time to buy a C-class (+56%); the new M-class (+61%) was also a draw. The C-class may have stolen some sales from the E-class (-14%).
BMW GROUP +6%
The 1-series (-16%) continues to sink but the 3-series (+16%) is hanging tough even as the sedan is about to be replaced. The 5-series (-26%) dropped significantly but the 7-series (+56%) enjoyed a bounce. The new X3 (+57%) is doing very well.
The increase for Mini was basically all due to the Countryman.
Rolls Royce +7%
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +40%
With each passing month of major gains, VW’s outsized U.S. sales goals look a bit less ridiculous.
The new Beetle is outselling the previous New Beetle by a factor of 4, but that only puts it about on a par with the CC. The real driver of VW’s growth was the Passat, which added some 6000 units to the brand’s total.
A big ad push gave Mazda its best January in years. The Mazda2 came out of nowhere (with 6 times its year-ago sales) and even the Mazda6 doubled. Less remarkably, there were also gains for the updated Mazda3 (+83%) and the CX-7 (+33%). Only the Mazda5 (-25%) couldn’t make it happen.
Subaru appears poised to put its disappointing 2011 in the rear-view mirror, with a healthy January increase led by the new Impreza, which doubled. The Legacy (+23%) also chipped in but the Forester (-12%) dropped.
The Mitsubishi roller coaster headed downhill in January. The company sold 36 examples of its “i” electric car, which made it almost as popular as the Eclipse Spyder. The Lancer slipped (-10%) but the Outlanders crept up a bit.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +31%
Land Rover +41%
The Evoque effect has hit Land Rover, but it did not account for all of the sales increase. The Range Rover Sport (+35%) also contributed, as did the LR2 (!). The Range Rover and the LR4 declined.
The new 911 (+56%) helped keep Porsche in the black, aided by the Panamera (+16%). This was in the face of a sharp drop in Boxster sales ahead of the new model’s debut and a minor decline for the Cayenne (-5%).
A steep drop for Suzuki in January, as all models dropped off — mostly significantly, the Kizashi (-73%).
TOP 10 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES IN JANUARY
1. Ford F-series 38,493
2. Toyota Camry 28,295
3. Chevrolet Silverado 26,850
4. Nissan Altima 22,357
5. Honda Civic 21,883
6. Honda CR-V 18,960
7. Toyota Corolla/Matrix 17,988
8. Ford Escape 17,259
9. Ram 17,909
10. Chevrolet Impala 16,009