After a chilly start to the year, auto sales finally began to warm up in March. Many auto executives pointed specifically to the latter half of the month, when the weather in much of the country literally began to shake off its big chill for the first time this year. Once people were willing to venture outside their homes, some of them found their way to auto dealerships, and as a result, sales for the month beat year-ago figures for the first time, by 6%. At the same time, the annualized sales rate rose to more than 16 million units, a level it hasn’t seen since last November. The only bad news, from the automakers’ perspective, was that incentives, too, crept up in March. Many of the month’s big movers had big money behind them, a trend that some analysts see as likely to continue.—Joe Lorio
MARCH 2014 SALES RESULTS, AND PERCENT CHANGE VERSUS MARCH 2013.
GENERAL MOTORS +4%
Despite the worst kind of publicity, with CEO Mary Barra getting grilled by Congress over ignition-switch problems that have caused a spate of fatal crashes, General Motors still sold more cars than last March, in the company’s first positive result of the year.
Buick again was the General’s most-improved brand, due almost entirely to the refreshed Regal (+51%) and the new Encore baby crossover (+76%).
Cadillac was the lone GM division down this month. We might have hoped for better from the new CTS (+5%) and the ATS (-17%). In fact, it was the not-so-new SRX (+24%) that turned in the strongest performance.
Sales of the new Corvette surged, more than tripling last year’s figure. The news was good at the opposite end of the performance spectrum as well, for the Spark (+45%), the Sonic (+46%), and the Cruze (+14%). The Silverado was back in the plus column (+7%), but Ram squeaked past it for the first time (ever?).
The Sierra (+22%) enjoyed a much bigger jump this month than the Silverado. In a similarly divergent move, the Savana van doubled, while its Chevrolet counterpart dropped slightly.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +3%
Like GM, Ford in March switched from negative to positive for the first time. Credit the F-series, the Fusion, and the Escape. And Lincoln continues to move in the right direction although the company admits it “has a long way to go.”
The Fusion (+9%) had its best month ever, the F-series (+5%) topped 70,000 units, and the Escape was once again the bestselling SUV in the land. The disappointing performers were the C-Max (-39%), the Taurus (-17%), and the Transit Connect (-17%).
The MKZ crested the 4000-unit mark (+72%), and all other Lincolns were up as well, save for the MKT (-3%).
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +5%
Toyota has paralleled Ford and GM this year, with two down months followed by an uptick in March. The Camry returned to the number-one spot among passenger cars, and the Corolla was the bestselling small car. Lexus also surged but Scion continues to sink.
Despite the Camry and the Corolla finishing in the top spots, passenger-car sales actually declined for Toyota, dragged down by the Avalon (-15%), the Prius (-16%), the Venza (-22%), and the Yaris (-25%). Trucks did much better; witness the Highlander (+14%), the RAV4 (+20%), the Tundra (+25%), the 4Runner (+53%), and even the FJ Cruiser (+94%).
The two models giving Lexus its biggest push are the new IS and the far-from-new GX, both of which more than doubled their year-ago volume.
The tC (+14%) was the only Scion on the upswing.
CHRYSLER GROUP +13%
Chrysler managed yet another month with a double-digit sales increase. Big shout-out to Jeep and Ram for this one.
Chrysler has entered the 200 trough, as it sells down the old car in anticipation of the new.
Dodge looks to be heading toward a sales downtrend, due to the loss of the Avenger. This month the division managed to stay even, thanks to increases for the Grand Caravan (+28%), the Journey (+25%), the Durango (+22%), and the Charger (+15%).
Jeep had its best-ever sales month, as the new Cherokee outsold the Compass and the Patriot combined. And yet the Cherokee doesn’t appear to be siphoning off any sale from the Grand Cherokee (+26%).
The big Ram pickup (+26%) outsold the Chevrolet Silverado in March. It was a narrow victory (42,532 to 42,247), and one that was fueled by incentives, but it’s pretty noteworthy all the same.
The 500L continues to more than make up for declining numbers for the regular 500.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +8%
Nissan again outpaced the industry overall, with an 8% gain that kept it ahead of American Honda and the Koreans.
The Altima (-5%), which last month was America’s bestselling passenger car, fell back to second place in March. But the Juke jumped (+77%) and the Sentra surged (+38%). The Rogue (+26%) and the NV van (+28%) added volume on the truck side. In the negative column were some Nissan regulars: Xterra (-27%), Titan (-37%), and Cube (-47%).
The JX/QX60 (+27%) looks like it could overtake the Q50. Meanwhile, the EX (-74%) is skidding toward the abyss, with only 300 sold in March.
AMERICAN HONDA -2%
Honda did not partake in the industry’s Spring bounce-back, although at least Acura gave a good effort.
The good news: the CR-V (+7%) muscled its way onto the Ten Bestselling Nameplates list. The bad news: the car it knocked out to get there was the Civic (+0%). The Accord (-7%) was down and the Pilot (-21%) was another drag on results.
Last month, we noted that Acura is becoming an SUV brand that sells cars on the side. This month, sales results add even more credence: Acura SUV sales (+46%), Acura car sales (-26%).
HYUNDAI – KIA +4%
Like the industry overall, the Koreans flipped from negative to positive in March, although they did so with a bit less gusto.
The new Santa Fe (+37%), the Sonata (+7%), and the Tucson (+14%) couldn’t overcome weakness in the Elantra (-18%), the Genesis (-31%), and the Azera (-32%). At least one of those models, the Genesis, should be on the comeback trail soon, however, once the new version arrives in showrooms.
The K900 reached dealerships in March, but its 105 units did little to move the needle for Kia. Instead, look to the Sportage (+33%), the Forte (+19%), the Soul (+16%), and the Optima (+14%).
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +1%
It was (just barely) a rare up month for the Volkswagen Group, but not, alas, for the Volkswagen division.
The Passat (+16%) and the Jetta (+5%), defied the general Volkswagen trend, which saw aging products like the CC, the Eos, the Tiguan, and the Touareg all decline by double digits.
Audi returned to its winning ways in March, thanks mostly to the Q7 (+46%) and the A6 (+27%).
A big month for the Cayenne (+24%), saw it more than double the total for the 911 (-10%) and more than quintuple the figure for the Panamera (+8%).
Another month, another double-digit sales increase for Subaru. Again, we look to the Forester (+53%), but also check out the XV Crosstrek (+41%).
BMW GROUP +8%
The BMW Group pushed past its Daimler-Benz rivals, on the strength of the BMW brand, which also outsold Mercedes-Benz.
Compact SUVs continue to be where it’s at for BMW: X1 (+56%), X3 (+46%). On the passenger-car side, the 6 Series surged (+249%), and so did the Z4 (+87%), the latter a sure sign of spring.
Mini’s total is way down, but that’s understandable given that the new version isn’t in stores yet.
Mercedes-Benz ceded the bestselling luxury brand title to BMW in March, although it remains in first place year-to-date.
Much like last month, the new S-class nearly doubled, the C-class dropped by a third (with a new version making the current one look dowdy), and the CLA added just under 2000 units to the brand’s total.
Smart’s Super Bowl commercial appears to have worn off. Hope it was worth it.
Mazda bounced back with the industry in March, although how it did so was a little strange: the Mazda2 more than doubled, while the Mazda3 was flat, and the new Mazda6 dropped slightly. Nothing strange on the SUV side, just more of the same: CX-5 up (+67%), others down.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +9%
In a reverse of past months, in March the XJ (+26%) and XK (+38%) increased, while the XF (-7%) was off.
Land Rover +2%
The new Range Rover Sport (+26%) was again Land Rover’s biggest gainer, but couldn’t make up for a big drop in the LR4 (-76%).
Guess which automaker posted the biggest sales increase in March? Yeah, we’re shocked too. Even more surprising is the vehicle driving that increase: the new Mirage. Although it did have some help from the Outlander (+60%), the Lancer (+61%), and the Outlander Sport (+34%).
Volvo pulled a U-turn, with a positive result in March. Credit the 60-series (+53%), now fortified with the addition of the V60 wagon.
TOP 10 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES IN FEBRUARY
1. Ford F-series 70,940
2. Dodge Ram 42,532
3. Chevrolet Silverado 42,247
4. Toyota Camry 41,953
5. Nissan Altima 35,921
6. Honda Accord 33,962
7. Ford Fusion 32,963
8. Toyota Corolla/Matrix 29,685
9. Ford Escape 28,701
10. Honda CR-V 28,657