After February’s surprisingly strong sales results, showroom traffic eased up slightly in March. The annualized sales pace slowed a bit from February, but still hovered around 13 million units. That means the first quarter of 2011 was much better than we have been doing the past couple years, although it’s far off the pace of five or so years ago. Compared to this time last year, March was better by 17%.
High gasoline prices have cooled truck sales a little — at least relative to cars. Notice that the Honda Accord knocked the Chevy Silverado out of second place this month, and the Nissan Altima very nearly passed it as well. Predictably, small cars have gotten a boost and, according to Ford sales analyst George Pipas, now account for 1 in 4 new vehicle sales, up from less than 1 in 5 as recently as December. Should the demand for small cars continue, most manufacturers are better positioned today than they were three years ago, when the last bout of $4-a-gallon gasoline hit. With better small cars as well as more fuel-efficient offerings among their mid-size and larger vehicles, carmakers should be in better shape even if high gas prices stick around into the spring selling season.
March 2011 sales results, and percent change versus March 2010
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +27% (excluding Volvo and Mercury)
Ford powered into the top spot this month, passing General Motors. The last time this happened was in February 2010, when Ford nosed ahead by some 500 units. This time the margin was 10 times wider. Ford’s tally, however, was bolstered significantly by fleet sales, which accounted for 35% of its total, versus 27% at GM.
The new Explorer is selling at double the rate of its lame-duck predecessor, but equal credit for Ford’s sales increase this month belongs to the always-pivotal F-series (+25%); interestingly, more than one-third of F-series pickups sold in March had a V-6 engine (regular or Ecoboost). The Escape also had a huge month in March, outselling every other SUV, and the Edge (+21%) and the Transit Connect (+47%) and even the Expedition (+40%) saw nice gains as well. Only the Flex (-29%) disappointed. On the car side, the Fiesta is still climbing (it has now passed the Mustang) and the Fusion had a truly monster month, with 27,566 sales. The Taurus (-15%) was a laggard.
The MKS sedan (-27%) and MKT crossover (-39%) both sank in March, but the MKZ (+28%) and the MKX (+12%) rallied a bit.
GENERAL MOTORS +12% (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC only)
General Motors throttled back on incentives in March, and lost its number-one position as a result. GM says that its retail sales still beat Ford.
Reflecting the small-car trend, the Cruze in March was (almost) Chevrolet’s best-selling car, falling less than 50 units short of the fleet-fattened Impala. But small-car popularity didn’t help the Aveo (-32%), nor did the white-hot mid-size car market aid the Malibu (-12%). The Equinox (+17%) stayed strong but the Traverse (-5%) slipped a bit.
Buick was the best-performing GM division in March, and the only one whose sales increase outpaced the market overall. Nearly all the credit here goes to the addition of the Regal, as the LaCrosse and Lucerne were down and the Enclave was up by only a couple hundred units.
The CTS (+36%) was the best news at Cadillac this month, and accounted for nearly all of the division’s rather weak increase. Even the SRX (+3%) petered out in March, while the Escalade slid 5%.
The Terrain (+29%) and the Sierra (+17%) supplied most of the forward momentum at GMC.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES -6%
The March results were disappointing at Toyota, which was the only major automaker to see a sales decrease versus one year ago. The caveat here, however, is that last March was actually a very big month for Toyota, as it unleashed a flurry of incentives to power out of its recall fiasco.
The Camry (-13%) fell out of the top spot as the bestselling car, beaten by both the Honda Accord and the Nissan Altima. The Prius (+58%) got a boost, perhaps due to fears of the Japanese earthquake/tsumani causing shortages. Evidently there were no such worries about the Yaris (-40%), however. The Sienna minivan (+34%) is still doing well, but the faltering RAV4 (-38%) was outsold by both the Honda CR-V and the Ford Escape.
The good news: the CT200h has become the third most popular Lexus car, behind the ES and the IS sedans. The bad news: it appears to have decimated sales of the HS250h (-85%).
Scion + 58%
It’s not so surprising that the new tC coupe is selling at better than twice the rate of its predecessor, but what is surprising is that it appears to have had a rub-off effect on its showroom-mates, as both the xB (+21%) and xD (+43%) have also reversed their downtrend.
AMERICAN HONDA +24%
A strong month for Honda saw the Accord push past both the Camry and the Chevy Silverado to take the number two spot among all nameplates, behind only the Ford F-series. Additionally, Honda dealers did a great job blowing out the old-model Civic ahead of the new version’s arrival, and the CR-V outsold the Toyota RAV4.
Aside from the aforementioned Accord, Civic, and CR-V, other good news for Honda came in the form of the Fit (+49%) and the Insight (+68%) — buoyed, perhaps, by high gas prices. The biggest disappointment had to be the new Odyssey (-1%) selling no better than the old Odyssey.
RL sales rose 22%, which sounds good until you realize that we’re only talking about an increase of 36 cars. The TSX dropped (-9%) despite the addition of the wagon. For good news, look to the MDX (+25%) and the RDX (+27%).
CHRYSLER GROUP +31%
Go Slim Shady! Rapper and Detroit-native Eminem helped Chrysler post a big increase in March, after a relatively weak February.
With sales nearly tripling over the previous month, the Chrysler 200 (Slim Shady’s ride) is now doing far better than its Sebring predecessor. The seemingly more deserving 300 (-28%) is down from a year ago, but the revamped version is only just arriving at dealers. That excuse, however, doesn’t apply to the revised Town & Country (-17%).
The Charger finally swung to the upside (+45%), as did the Avenger (+93%). All other Dodge models were in positive territory, but the biggest single factor in Dodge’s overall increase was the addition of the Durango.
In its first month on sale, Chrysler sold exactly 500 Fiat 500s.
Jeep sold 4000 more copies of the new Grand Cherokee than it did of the old version last year. But the Grand Cherokee was not alone in racking up additional sales: the Patriot added 3000 units, the Compass 2000 units, and the Liberty more than 1000. Only the Wrangler was about even.
The big Ram pickup (+23%) enjoyed another good month in March, surpassing the 20k mark.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +27%
Nissan again picked up market share this month, thanks to some very big results from its mainstay models.
Even in a big month for midsize sedans, the Altima’s performance (+31%) was impressive, as it passed the Camry and became the fourth-best-selling nameplate overall. The Sentra saw sales double, perhaps at the expense of the Versa (-20%) and, to a lesser extent, the Cube (-28%). In an indication of the changing zeitgeist in the SUV market, the Juke nearly outsold the Pathfinder and the Xterra combined. But it was the Rogue (+69%) that had a real powerhouse month.
Infiniti couldn’t keep up with Nissan, or the market overall. The division was paced by the new QX (+30%), followed closely by the G (+24%).
Once again, the Korean wonder twins gobbled up market share with a year-over-year sales increase that zoomed ahead of the industry overall. As in February, Kia outpaced Hyundai.
The new Elantra (+134%) has officially caught fire, as it outsold all other small cars except the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla in March. Meanwhile, the Sonata (+21%) continues to power ahead, cresting the 20k mark this month. The new Tucson (+46%) and the old Accent (+36%) also enjoyed nice increases. The Equus had a rather inauspicious debut (241 units) and the Santa Fe (-40%) continues to slide.
Kia’s box-fresh lineup is making big leaps, headlined by the Sportage (+234%) and the Optima (+90%). The not-quite-as-fresh Sorrento is up by a more modest 20%, the Forte by 56%, and the Soul by 96%.
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +20%
For VW, it’s all Jetta. The new model’s 85% gain accounted for the vast majority of VW’s sales increase. The CC (+17%), the Golf/GTI (+6%), and the Tiguan (+13%) provided some token assistance.
The new A8 continues to do well, but it’s still only half the volume of its two German competitors. Both the Q5 (+23%) and the Q7 (+37%) were strong, while the A4 (+12%) was somewhat less so.
6 more Bentleys were sold this March than last, which translates into a 5% increase.
Mazda sales jumped by one-third, allowing it to leapfrog Subaru and the BMW Group. For Mazda, the good news came largely from three sources: the addition of the Mazda2, the redesigned Mazda5 more than doubling its volume, and more modest but still significant growth for the CX-7 and CX-9.
Could Subaru finally be cooling? New product hits had Subaru defying gravity throughout the great recession, but this March was the second month in a row that the brand grew at a slower pace than the overall market. The Forester (-10%) actually declined, which dragged down results despite robust increases for the Legacy (+28%) and the Outback (+38%).
BMW GROUP +22%
The new X3 continues on its steep upward trajectory, and in March it exceeded the combined totals of the X5 and the X6 (both of which fell back compared to a year ago). On the car side, the 5-series is still doing well (+56%) while the 3-series (-10%) declined again.
The new Countryman didn’t account for all of Mini’s increased sales, only about 70% of it.
44 Rolls-Royce cars glided out of showrooms in March, which is 2 more than did last March.
Mercedes-Benz didn’t match the industry’s overall growth, but it outsold Lexus and BMW for the month of March and is ahead so far this year. Contributions came both from expected quarters (E-class +21%) and unexpected ones (Sprinter, +175%). The sports cars were down, but a new SLK will arrive soon.
Now fully back in the Mercedes-Benz fold, Smart slumped again, despite higher gas prices.
The addition of the Outlander Sport can be credited with about half of Mitusbishi’s big jump in March. Also contributing were the Endeavor (which nearly tripled its year-ago figure) and, to a lesser extent, the Galant (+11%).
Finally, a good month for Volvo, mostly due to the new S60, which beat its February total by more than 50%. Elsewhere in the lineup, minor increases for the XC60 and the S40 didn’t offset larger drops for the XC70 and S80.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +16%
Jaguar declined again in March, as the surging XJ couldn’t overcome the sinking XF. Sales of the sports cars fell by nearly half, which didn’t help matters.
Land Rover +26%
Another month, another 26% sales increase for Land Rover. This time, the gains were spread around pretty evenly amongst the LR4, the Range Rover, and the Range Rover Sport. The LR2, though, dropped by a third.
The zooming Cayenne (+164%) continues to be Porsche’s most popular model. The Panamera (+21%) is a distant second, just ahead of the 911, with the Boxster and Cayman trailing far behind. Depressingly, all three sports cars declined in March.
The Kizashi (+77%) is finally getting some traction, but the SX4 (-14%) declined a bit.
Saab sold 830 cars in March, which is a damned sight better than 133 last year. More importantly, it’s a nice increase over the 546 total in February. Recently, Saab had a brief interruption in production when some suppliers stopped deliveries due to unpaid invoices, but CEO Victor Muller says the problem has been cleared up.