May of 2011 was the month that saw new-car sales collapse at many of the Japanese automakers, as inventories dried up due to supply interruptions caused by the disaster in Japan. Today, the Japanese auto industry is back to full strength, which means some wild year-over-year sales increases for May.
New-car sales overall, though, have actually throttled back a bit from the strong acceleration we were seeing in the first part of 2012. May’s annualized sales rate was just under 14 million units, whereas we had been running above 14 million. Most industry executives, however, don’t appear to be worried about a drop-off in demand. Factories are running at full steam, and gasoline prices have dropped. The latter was a surprise given that we’re just coming in to peak summer driving season, but, in a sudden reversal, the commodities casino sent oil prices tumbling in May, dragging down gasoline prices.
Fluctuating fuel prices are just part of the background noise in the auto market, but the bigger trend appears to be a return to normalcy after the recent financial and supply disruptions. With all the players fully participating again, every automaker will have to be at the top of their game if they want to steal share in this market.
MAY 2012 SALES RESULTS, AND PERCENT CHANGE MAY 2011.
GENERAL MOTORS +11%
General Motors sales couldn’t keep up with the overall industry’s 26% year-over-year increase, but the company’s May results not only were better than the decline it experienced in April, but the nearly quarter-of-a-million units was the best monthly total since the Cash-for-Clunkers bonanza. Unlike last month, when GMC was the only division to better its year-ago performance, this time every division save Cadillac was in positive territory. Note that overall, fleet sales are still a significant part of the GM mix, at 30% of the total.
The departing Avalanche got a big send-off (+70%), in a month where every Chevy truck was up; among continuing models, the Traverse (+37%) posted the best increase. On the car side, the Cruze slipped again (-14%), as did the sports cars, but the Malibu (+16%) had a monster month with nearly 30,000 sold.
GMC was buoyed by a strong pickup truck market, which was driven by a drop in fuel prices (spurring personal-use buyers) or by a generally improving economy (motivating commercial buyers).
Buick had a welcome reversal of fortune in May. The Verano continues to grow volume, but the Regal (-40%) continues to drop. The LaCrosse (+19%) and the Enclave (+55%) enjoyed a nice bump.
Cadillac was the only GM division to decline in May. The SRX turned in the strongest performance, and it was flat. Help is on the way, however, in the form of the new ATS and the XTS — the latter should start hitting showrooms next month.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +13%
Like GM, Ford was up in May after being down in April, but still lost share as the overall market grew faster. Nonetheless, Ford once again was just able to stay ahead of surging Toyota, but the company’s number two spot looks to be in jeopardy.
Lead by the F-series (+29%), Ford trucks outpaced Ford cars in May. Beyond big pickups, it was some of the more obscure corners of the truck lineup that did well, including the Transit Connect (+53%, its best-ever month) and — could it be? — the Flex (+40%). Looking at the cars, the 2013 Mustang (+58%) zoomed ahead, passing the Camaro in the process, and the Fusion had its best-ever month for retail sales and total volume of nearly 27,000 units. Among continuing nameplates, only the Fiesta (-15%) was down.
The MKS (+24%) wasn’t up nearly as much as last month but still did well, as did the MKX (+27%) and the MKT, which doubled on very small volume. The loss of some 1200 Town Car sales, though, is still being felt at Lincoln.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +87%
We expected it, and we got it. Toyota’s May sales gain looks huge, since it’s compared to last May’s disastrous figure. But look at the total compared to last month, and sales still jumped more than 13%, which is very impressive.
Toyota’s month-over-month increase is so huge, we could confine the list of winners only to those models that at least doubled their volume, and it would still be a long list: Camry (with sales closing in on 40,000); Prius (which tripled, with the addition of the V and the C); Yaris (despite much better competition); Highlander; Land Cruiser (though still only 240 units); RAV4; and Tundra. The ancient Corolla/Matrix didn’t double but did manage to sell an incredible 31,847 units. What looks weak? The Avalon (-7%), which is about to be replaced; the Venza (+13%), the Sequoia (+14%), and the FJ Cruiser (+23%).
As at Toyota, the sales gain at Lexus was artificially enhanced but the sales strength is real, with a nice increase over April. The new GS again added nearly 2000 to the Lexus total, but the bigger contributor was the RX (+82%). The CT (+241%) and the IS (+55%) also helped. The LS, however, continues to sink.
The FR-S only saw 86 deliveries and so isn’t yet a factor for Scion. But the iQ, with nearly 900, is. Strangely, the tC coupe declined (-18%) while both four-doors increased.
CHRYSLER GROUP +30%
Chrysler was back to its winning ways in May, growing not just sales but also market share, as all five brands saw increased sales.
The Avenger (+93%) and the Journey (+56%) again saw the biggest sales gains for Dodge, with the Challenger (+41%) not far behind. The Charger (-14%) and the Durango (-12%) both declined.
The Compass (-18%) was down again in May, and its twin, the Patriot (+8%) wasn’t much better. Jeep’s strongest gainers were also its strongest sellers: the Wrangler (+44%) and the Grand Cherokee (+40%).
Last month, we noted that the big Ram pickup had 20k-plus sales; this month, it was over 26,000.
Fiat sales topped 4000 cars (4003 sold) for the first time.
AMERICAN HONDA +48%
Like Toyota, Honda recorded a huge percentage increase in May, compared to the tsunami-depressed year-ago total. But it wasn’t just the stark comparison with 2011; Honda was also up nearly 10% compared to last month. Some models, like the Civic, were up considerably more.
The Civic finally started exhibiting the strength of a redesigned model, powering into fourth place among all nameplates, with sales climbing by more than one-third compared to April. In so doing, it overtook the Accord, which fell to sixth.
The CR-V was once again America’s bestselling SUV, and set a new best-ever monthly total. Honda’s fuel misers, however, continue to struggle: Fit (-35%), Insight (-64%), and CR-Z (-81%) are all tanking.
The new RDX tripled its prior-year figure as the nameplate enjoyed its best-ever month. We had thought the new ILX might lend a hand in May, but it was only trickling into dealerships. Maybe next month. The ZDX, meanwhile, is only trickling out of dealerships; sales have dropped below 100.
Once again, Hyundai-Kia sales failed to keep pace with total industry growth. The Koreans were unaffected by the supply shortage that rocked the Japanese a year ago, so they are going to be hard pressed to grind out big percentage increases their strong sales in 2011.
Hyundai claimed its second-best-ever monthly sales total in May, aided by the new Azera, the addition of the Veloster, and a sudden quadrupling of Accent sales. The Sonata (-9%), however, is cooling off.
The Optima (+80%) and the Rio (+60%) were behind the gains this month. Kia’s SUVs and minivan continue to show weakness: Sportage (-24%), Sorento (-7%), and Sedona (-22%).
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +21%
The Altima (-11%) has cooled considerably but is in the midst of a model changeover. The Cube and the Leaf have just gone cold, with the latter trailing the still-ascending Chevy Volt by a considerable margin. Buoyed by a redesigned sedan, the Versa (+80%) is looking strong, as are the Quest (which doubled), the Rogue (+72%), and even the Titan (+87%).
Infiniti looked good in May with its post-disaster bounce, but again, the picture also was impressive when viewed against the may total, as Infiniti leaped from 7000 to 10,000. Much of the credit — 2678 units, to be exact — goes to the new JX. The G (+35%) and the QX (+28%) also did well. Not so the EX (-32%) and the FX (-6%).
Mercedes’ growth came via the C-class (+35%) and the new M-class (+66%), as well as the CLS and the sports cars. Let’s not forget the Sprinter (+44%), which now outsells the S-class 2-to-1. The big percentage declines came from the soon-to-depart R-class (151 units, down 83%) and the never-to-depart G-class (68 units, off 38%).
Smart experienced another big bounce this month, but still lags behind the Scion iQ.
No doubt spurred by a rush of collectors, Maybach sales soared to 4 cars, from 3 a year ago.
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +24%
The Volkswagen Group was hot, but not quite as hot as last month.
Volkswagen’s performance largely mirrors that of last month. Some 10,000 Passats were sold, which appears to be where that model has plateaued. Those additional units account for the brand’s year-over-year increase, while the 3000 sales chipped in by the reintroduced Beetle offset the declines in the Tiguan (-20%), the CC (-60%), and the Jetta (-9%).
The new A6 has grown to become the third-best-selling Audi, behind the A4 and the Q5. The A7, however, had its first down month (-3%). Nothing else in Audi land moved more than 12%, either up or down.
Subaru was one of the lesser-known brands that was affected by supply problems starting last May. The brand’s big increase over a year ago also proved to be enough to push it past the BMW Group. The new Impreza (+218%) looks great compared to last year but is up only slightly from April’s figure. All Subarus increased — except, of course, for the Tribeca (-10%).
BMW GROUP +7%
BMW’s growth slowed in May, and the flagship brand was again outsold by Mercedes-Benz.
The 3-series (-22%) had a sudden, and unexpected reversal this month — and, conversely, so did the 1-series (+52%). A big jump for the new 6-series (+160%) was more expected. The X5 (+39%) and the 5-series (+45%) also did well.
Both the regular Minis and the Countryman managed small gains this month.
The CX-5 has become the second most popular Mazda, behind only the Mazda3. Speaking of the Mazda3, it dropped a bit (-4%), as did the CX-9. The struggling Mazda2 (-21%) and the stubbornly unpopular Mazda5 (-36%) dropped more.
The XC60 (+26%) once again was Volvo’s only bright spot, although its sales climbed more in May than they had in April. All other Volvos were down.
Mitsubishi took another ride down in May, mostly due to collapsing sales of the Eclipse, plus a drop for the Lancer (-35%). Only the Galant turned in a positive number (+31%). Oh, and sales of the battery-powered “i” car climbed from 79 to 85.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +8%
All three Jaguars dropped in May, lead by the XK (-45%).
Land Rover +19%
The Evoque is the source of all the growth at Land Rover. Strangely, of the other models, it was only the LR2 that was able to post a gain.
The new 911 did well again in May (+44%), staying ahead of the Panamera (+22%). The Cayenne (-7%), however, remains the bestselling Porsche. Boxster and Cayman buyers continue to await the new versions.
Suzuki moved into positive territory in May, thanks mostly to the Grand Vitara (+25%).
TOP 10 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES IN MAY
1. Ford F-series 54,836
2. Toyota Camry 39,571
3. Chevrolet Silverado 34,555
4. Honda Civic 33,490
5. Toyota Corolla/Matrix 31,847
6. Honda Accord 29,737
7. Chevrolet Malibu 29,579
8. Ford Fusion 26,845
9. Dodge Ram 26,040
10. Honda CR-V 25,186