Attempting to put its recalls and unintended acceleration imbroglio into the rear-view mirror, Toyota called upon its deep reserves of cash, launching a bonanza of incentive spending in March which, naturally, obligated other carmakers to do the same. The subsidized leasing and zero-interest financing, combined with a hefty shot of fleet sales, juiced the market, driving new-car sales up 24% over the dismal March 2009 total. The March figures portend full-year new-car sales of 11.7 million, which is a lot better than last year, when industry watcher were speculating whether the year would end up below 10 million (it actually finished at 10.4 million). But step back a bit, and you realize that even 11.7 million is still a long way from the 16.8 million average annual sales the industry was enjoying in the decade ending in 2007.
MARCH 2010 SALES VERSUS MARCH 2009
General Motors +21%, or +43% for New GM (Buick-Cadillac-Chevrolet-GMC)
Spurred by fleet sales and incentive spending, General Motors regained the top spot in the U.S. auto market in March – although, in a statistic that’s ripe with foreshadowing, the company actually sold more cars and trucks in China than in the USA.
The LaCrosse (+236%) was the big winner, while the Enclave (+42%) also gained, and the Lucerne stagnated.
The SRX was just trickling onto the market last year, so its better-than-six-times March ’09 total easily set the pace for Cadillac. The CTS was the brand’s biggest disappointment, at -26%.
Equinox deliveries nearly tripled, while the Suburban (+83%), Aveo (+74%), and HHR (+55%) also posted big gains.
The Sierra (+23%) and the Acadia (+37%) were aided by the addition of the Terrain.
Toyota Motor Sales +41%
Toyota’s big incentive spending (big for Toyota, but still less than the domestics) had the desired effect in March, with significant gains for all the company’s core models, sizeable gains for some other vehicles, and only a few cars doing worse than last year. In the latter camp are all three Scions.
Camry (+41%), Corolla (+33%), Highlander (+121%), and RAV4 (+117%, its best March ever) lead the charge volume-wise, but we also should acknowledge the Tundra (+84%), 4Runner (+149%), Venza (+41%), and Prius (+32%).
The RX (+30%) and the IS (+29%) did well, but the addition of the HS250h was also a factor.
All three Scion models fell further in March.
Ford Motor Company +40%
After enjoying a brief moment as the country’s number one automaker last month, Ford slipped back to third place behind GM and Toyota. Still, Ford’s volume increase over last year easily outpaced the industry as a whole and so the company again picked up market share. Yes, incentive spending was high and fleet sales were a significant factor, but a 40% year-over-year gain is still good news. Factor out Volvo (-18%), and it’s actually even better: +43%.
With the exception of the Ranger and the Crown Victoria, every one of Ford’s continuing nameplates did better than last March. Notable gainers included Fusion (+79%), Focus (+57%), Taurus (+86%), Mustang (+57%), Escape (+52%), Edge (+67%), and F-series (+30%).
After a big February, the Milan +71% had anther good month, and Mercury’s other models were also in the black.
Lincoln’s biggest percentage gainers were its retrograde entries: Navigator (+96%) and Town Car (+56%). The MKS (-16%) and MKX (-14%) both slipped.
American Honda +18%
American Honda’s sales increase couldn’t quite keep pace with the overall market, probably a result of Toyota’s aggressive dealing.
The Insight (+179%) had a huge percentage increase, though it was only just coming into the market last March. More representative were gains for the Accord (+23%), the Pilot (+48%), and the Odyssey (+26%). But the Fit fell back a bit (-15%).
Acura enjoyed mostly modest but consistent gains, led by the MDX (+42%), with assistance from the TL (+17%), the TSX (+16%), and the RDX (+18%).
Nissan North America +43%
Nissan grabbed more market share in March, even in the face of a resurgent Toyota. Infiniti helped as well.
The Versa (+105%) continues to do well, although it had some rather unexpected company this month, with the Armada (+171%), the Frontier (+129%), and the Maxima (+93%) also making headlines. Only the sports cars disappointed, the 370Z (-33%) and the GTR (-37%).
Infiniti + 37%
The new M (+62%) did well, as did the G (+45%), while the EX (-20%) and the FX (-14%) declined, and the QX56 (+242%) confounded.
Chrysler Group -8%
After reporting the tiniest of year-over-year sales increases in February, Chrysler resumed its declining ways in March, with total sales 8% below March 2009. Chrysler is still putting lots of cars into fleets, but it has reduced incentive spending from the pay-anything year-ago levels.
The Town & Country (+30%) and Sebring (+69%) offset the PT Cruiser (-70%) and the 300 (-20%).
The Compass (+27%), Patriot (+26%), Grand Cherokee (+32%), and Commander (+29%) overcame weakness in the Wrangler (-16%) and the Liberty (-11%).
Challenger (+36%) was the only bright spot among grim stats for the Avenger (-31%), Caravan (-32%), and Caliber (-12%).
Hyundai was not as hot as might have been expected, trailing the overall market. Like Honda, Hyundai likely suffered as a result of Toyota’s incentive spending. Kia’s year-over-year sales growth outpaced Hyundai’s in March, a situation that is likely to continue this year, as Kia rolls out its new Sportage this summer and Optima this fall.
The redesigned Tucson (+129%) and Sonata (+53%) led the charge for Hyundai; the company claimed that, counting only retail sales, the Sonata captured third place among mid-size sedans.
Kia’s surging models expressed their gains in multiples of year-prior sales: Optima (2x), Sorrento (3x), and Soul (4x). No surprise, then, that the brand had its best ever March.
VW Group +39%
The Volkswagen Group had another strong month in March, with VW leading the way but Audi close behind.
Volkswagen +41 %
The good news was everywhere at VW: Golf/GTI (+152%), Tiguan (+42%), Jetta (+24%), Passat (+73%), Touareg (+90%); everywhere except the CC (-15%).
Audi looked strong across the board, but standout gains came from the A5 (+155%, thanks to the addition of the Cabriolet), the A3 (+100%, with half of those TDIs), and the A6 (+98%).
Of all the manufacturers who posted increased sales in March, Subaru’s was most impressive, because it was just about the only nameplate that is actually coming off a good 2009. Its 2010 sales, in fact, are the company’s best ever for the month of March.
The new Legacy (+124%) and Outback (+111%) lead the way, naturally, but the Forester (+24%) and Impreza (+7%) helped too. Only the Tribeca (-57%) continues to disappoint.
BMW Group +3%
The BMW Group was just treading water in March. The BMW brand did better than Mini, which couldn’t muster any increase at all.
The X5 (+27%) and the 3-series (+11%) were the bright spots here.
An increase in convertible sales was negated by declines in the other two models. Bring on the Crossman!
Daimler AG +19%
Mercedes-Benz sprinted ahead of last March’s results (aided only slightly by its reclaimed Sprinter) easily outpacing the growth at BMW but Audi.
The new E-class (+155%) provided the headline number, but the S-class (70%) and the C-class (+20%) did well, too. The coupes and convertibles were a mixed bag, with the CL (+32%) up but the SL (-20%), SLK (-27%), and CLS (-43%) all down. Among the SUVs, the M-class (+29%), GL-class (+68%), and G-wagen (+41%) were up, while the R-class (-58%) and GLK (-10%) dropped.
Despite the industry’s fervor for small cars, the smallest of them all, the ForTwo (-61%), continues to sink.
Mitsubishi’s incentive spending was well rewarded in March, with widespread increases, some of them dramatic. Galant sales nearly tripled and those of the Endeavor nearly doubled. The higher-volume cars posted less dramatic increases: +31% for the Outlander and +47% for the Lancer.
Suzuki has another scary sales report, with March deliveries falling at an even faster rate than for the first quarter overall.
TOP 5 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES (and rank last month)
- Ford F-series 42,514 (#1)
- Toyota Camry 36,251 (#6)
- Chevrolet Silverado 29,886 (#5)
- Toyota Corolla 29,623 (#7)
- Honda Accord 29,120 (#5)