May Sales Collide Head-On With RecoveryBy Bill Visnic June 1, 2011
May is supposed to be the wheelhouse of the spring selling season, but figures from the earliest-reporting companies today indicate sales for the major automakers are down or flat. A recovery that looked unstoppable just a few months ago had a head-on collision in May with everything from the inventory consequences of Japans earthquake to what could be freshly reluctant consumers and businesses as new concerns arise about the depth of the economic recovery.
Sales at General Motors Co. were down 1.2 percent at 221,192, compared with last Mays 223,822, as GM focused on a 9-percent gain in retail transactions and emphasized a pullback on fleet sales. Chevrolet sales were down 3.5 percent and Cadillac was off 5.7 percent, although the Buick division rode a healthy 23.8-percent gain in May to 15,579 units, the rise coming entirely from the addition of volume from the new Regal. Gains from Chevrolets strong-selling Cruze compact car and Equinox compact crossover were offset by large declines in the brands fullsize pickup and SUV lines as consumers apparently remained jittery about high gasoline prices, despite the fact gas prices declined for most of the month.
Ford Motor Co.s ongoing sales surge also hit a snag in May, with total sales of 192,102 down 2.4 percent compared with May, 2010s 196,912 (which included sales from the previously owned Volvo Cars unit). Sales for the Focus compact car now comprised largely of the all-new 2012 model swelled by 31.7 percent to 22,303 and the redesigned Explorer crossover exploded for a 134.6-percent gain to 13,318 units. As with rival GM, however, Fords pickup sales took a beating in May, with the F-Series sliding 15 percent; F-Series sales, which were rising smartly in the first quarter, have declined to a gain of just 10 percent for the first half of 2011. Sales at the Lincoln luxury-car division were off 4.6 percent in May.
The sole member of the Big Six automakers to enjoy a sales increase in May was the Chrysler Group LLC: its 115,363 deliveries marked a 10.1-percent improvement compared with last May, propelled by a 55-percent hike from the Jeep brand, which also is up 44 percent for the year. Sales at the Chrysler brand were down 21 percent, however, to just 16,364 units, and the Dodge division was off by 5 percent, its sales buoyed by the presence of the redesigned Durango crossover, which posted 4,358 sales compared to last May's sales of two units.
The cost of the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan became apparent for the Japanese automakers, as sales at American Honda Motor Co. Inc., Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. and Nissan North America, Inc. all down by large margins. Toyota was pummeled by a 33.4-percent plunge and sales for every passenger-car nameplate were down except for the Scion tC. Toyotas broad drop to 108,387 sales (compared with 162,813 last May) included a 47.4-percent plummet for the Prius hybrid-electric vehicle and a 56.4-percent dive for the Yaris subcompact both competitively debilitating declines during a time of high gasoline prices and a 45-percent drop for the Tundra fullsize pickup. Equally troubling, sales for the Lexus luxury division were off 40 percent to 12,305 sales for the month, a number that also pulled Lexus first-half sales down 14.3-percent compared with the first half of 2010.
At Honda, sales dropped 22.5 percent to 90,773. Every car line except the Fit subcompact (+46.3 percent) was down by double digits, including a rocky 34.5-percent drop for the Accord and a 30.2-percent decline for the Civic, despite the launch of the all-new 2012 model. The Acura upscale divisions sales of 9,000 units represented a 23-percent drop compared with May, 2010.
Nissans sales were off 9.1 percent as the automaker battled likely inventory concerns and dealt with a decline in truck sales of 12.5 percent and a loss of 21.1 percent at the Infiniti luxury division. Sales for the Altima midsize sedan/coupe sprung up 16.3 percent to 25,525 units, but sales for every other Nissan car nameplate declined in May. Sales for the Titan fullsize pickup plunged 43.8 percent to 1,160, a number close to being equaled by the surge in sales for the redesigned Quest minivan, which sold 873 copies in May compared with just 12 in May, 2010.
Something was going right at Volkswagen of America, Inc., where May sales leaped 27.9 percent to 30,100 units, delivering the company its best sales month since August, 2003. The recently redesigned Jetta compact sedan has taken heat from the media for obvious interior cost-cutting, but the Jetta lineups substantially lower base prices seem to be resonating with customers, as May sales for the Jetta (top) increased 58.6 percent and its 16,671 units sold place it as one of the segments stronger sellers. First-half 2011 sales for VW are up 19.7 percent.