November 2009 Auto Sales Analysis

After October’s hopeful results, November auto sales slid backward to the post-Clunkers doldrums of two months ago. So, while the financial markets are recovering and the TV talking heads debate whether the recession had ended, it’s clear that there’s no incipient recovery in the automobile business. There, the recession continues.

What is interesting about November is how widespread the declines were. The market as a whole slipped 11% from October, and the trend was powerful enough that 32 of the 37 top brands found themselves in negative territory. The five marques that actually had better sales in November were a ragtag bunch: Jaguar, Jeep, Mercury, Volvo, and Saturn, none of which is having a particularly good year overall.

Another way of assessing November is to look at the month’s five best-selling vehicles (see the list at the end of this report). November’s group of five is the same as last month, and even though their relative rankings barely changed, every one of them was off significantly from its October figure.

Next month should see slightly higher volumes, thanks to the traditional end-of-the-year blowout sales and massive incentives, trumpeted by wall-to-wall TV commercials. But even if we see an uptick in December, it’s clear that 2009 will end much like it began, with automobiles a tough sell to a fearful and recession-battered public. Excepting any more massive government giveaways, automobile sales will be lucky to see a recovery in 2010.

November vs. October sales, percent change [Source: Automotive News]

Only one automaker had a better November than October.

Jaguar-Land Rover +9%
With the new XJ announced and revealed, but not yet on sale in America, it was the XF whose November sales gain of 44% (or 295 cars) powered Jaguar ahead in November. And with Land Rover sales flat, the XF essentially put the company in positive territory all by itself.

Some did well by doing less bad than the average.

Porsche -1%
Panamera sales just about equaled October’s, while the Cayenne gained (+34%) and the 911 declined (-27%).

Chrysler -3%
An increase at Jeep (+14%) nearly offset declines for Chrysler (-2%) and Dodge (-10%). The company’s performance would be more encouraging if many of the big gainers had not been models with a short future: the Chrysler PT Cruiser (+130%), the Dodge Sprinter (+115%), and the Jeep Commander (+95%). The positive results from the Jeep Patriot (+68%), the Dodge Journey (+48%), and the Jeep Liberty (+29%) were perhaps more meaningful. But many core models dropped significantly, including the Chrysler 300 (-34%), the Dodge Charger (-30%), the Dodge Caliber (-29%), and the Dodge Ram (-20%).

Volkswagen Group -5%
Volkswagen (-5%) did slightly better than Audi (-7%) in November, but the bright spot of the VW Group actually was Bentley (+70%). Other good news came from the Audi A3 (+54%), the Volkswagen CC (+36%), and the Volkswagen Tiguan (+34%). Sales of the Audi A8 fell by half, ahead of a new model, and the not-so-New Beetle fell almost as much (-49%) in the first month of the current generation’s final year.

Mazda -5%
All Mazda cars were down by double digits; the Mazda3 (-12%) was the relative strongest. Only the Mazda5 (+28%) and the SUVs, the CX-7 (+26%) and the CX-9 (+17%), were able to make any headway.

Nissan -6%
Nissan was dragged down by Infiniti (-13%), where the only good news was the EX (+13%). For Nissan, the positive spin is that core models such as the Altima (+5%) and the Maxima (+9%) advanced, along with the Murano (+1%), the Pathfinder (+2%), and the Xterra (+11%). But more models declined, including the Rogue (-14%), the Cube (-25%), and the Versa (-18%).

Subaru -7%
The seemingly unstoppable Subaru, which has recorded an incredible string of positive sales results in defiance of the wretched economy, finally took a bit of a breather in November. All three models did worse than in October, but it’s no surprise that the newest entrants, the Legacy/Outback and the Forester, slipped the least (both -4%).

Daimler-Benz -7%
The M-class (+13%) posted the only significant sales gain at Mercedes-Benz in November. Even the new E-class (-21%) lost ground. But the C-class (-2%) and the GLK (-1%) slipped only a bit, helping keep the overall decline below the industry average for the month.

Ford -10%
Ford has been America’s Good News car company for 2009, relatively speaking at least, but the only good thing you can say about its November sales performance is that it’s not quite as bad as the industry’s as a whole. Ford division (-12%) was slightly worse than average, however, on weakness from the franchise F-series (-23% but still in the top sales spot), the new Taurus (-23%), the Mustang (-24%), and the Crown Victoria (-36%). Bright spots were the Fusion and the Focus, both positive, but just barely. Lincoln fared better (-5%), with help from the old (Town Car +26%) and the new (MKT +5%). Mercury managed an actual sales increase (+5%) thanks to the Milan (+48%) and the Mountaineer (+75%). Volvo (+4%) also chipped in to help.

BMW Group -11%
The November sales decline at the BMW Group exactly matched the industry’s as a whole, but we put BMW in the better-than-average category anyway, because its headline division held its losses to just -4%. The 1-series had a very good month (+45%), as did the X5 (30%) and the 5-series (14%). The X6 (-13%) and the 3-series (-21%) both dropped, but the real drag on results was Mini (-39%).

Many of the major players did even worse than average.

Toyota -12%
Toyota had a tough month in November. Its sales decline was led by problem-child Scion (-20%). Among Toyota’s volume models, the Prius (-29%), the Corolla/Matrix (-15%), the Avalon (-23%), the Venza (-18%), the Yaris (-19%), the RAV4 (-18%), and the pickups (Tacoma -14%, Tundra -15%) were all a drag on sales. The Camry (-9%) did well enough to retake second place from the Chevy Silverado pickup, and the Highlander (+4%) was in positive territory. The new 4Runner started off with a bang (+390% versus depressed October figures) and the niche FJ Cruiser did well (+31%). Lexus (-5%) did better overall, with-finally-a good month for the LS (+31%) and the GS (+21%), and relative strength for the ES (-7%) and the RX (-5%).

Suzuki -12%
We were expecting a boost here from the addition of the Kizashi, but that car won’t add to results until next month. Without it, Suzuki’s skid was just slightly worse than average.

Honda -13%
Big declines for the Accord (-26%), the Civic (-14%), and the CR-V (-11%) really hurt Honda. Acura (-14%) was no help. The only bright spot of any consequence was the Honda Pilot (+3%) and, less so given its small volume, the Element (+17%).

Hyundai/Kia -14%
The white-hot Korean Express cooled considerably in November. Kia (-20%) fell back more than Hyundai (-10%). After a big October, the Kia Borrego crashed hard (-79%); so did the Kia Rondo (-48%), the Hyundai Elantra (-29%), the Kia Optima (-47%), the Kia Forte (-19%), and the Hyundai Accent (-16%). Those declines washed out big increases by the Kia Sedona (+87%) and Sorento (+44%), and lesser ones by the Kia Sportage (+17%) and Soul (+21%).

General Motors -15%
If one were to look for encouraging signs in GM’s disappointing November, the best one might say is that, with the exception of Saturn (+3%), GM’s worst-performing divisions were the ones the corporation is offloading or closing: Saab (-28%), Hummer (-28%) and Pontiac (-30%). The continuing brands did somewhat better: Cadillac and GMC (both -16%), Chevrolet (-14%), and Buick (-5%). Buick benefited from a solid Enclave (-1%) and an improving LaCrosse (+5%). At Chevrolet, the Aveo (+52%), the Equinox (+22%), and the Suburban (+11%) did well; the Silverado (-30%), the Traverse (-25%), the HHR (-29%), and the Camaro (-15%) weighed the brand down. The news was all bad at Cadillac, except for the 6 additional XLRs sold compared to October. GMC also saw big declines, although the Terrain (+23%) and the Acadia (+18%) were in positive territory.

Mitsubishi -24%
Sales of the Mitsubishi Galant fell by nearly two-thirds (-62%), nearly putting the brand’s mainstream midsize behind the Outlander (+17%). The Lancer (-7%) was better off than most.

THE TOP 5 BEST-SELLING VEHICLES (and rank last month)
1. Ford F-series 30,494 (#1)
2. Toyota Camry 27,385 (#3)
3. Chevrolet Silverado 22,101 (#2)
4. Toyota Corolla/Matrix 21,899 (#4)
5. Honda Accord 17,239 (#5)

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