April turned out to be another strong month for the U.S. auto industry with sales totaling 1.2 million vehicles, up 2 percent from a year ago. That put the Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) of sales at 14.4 million, up from 13.1 million in April a year ago and 14.3 million in March.
While a 2-percent gain seems small, it came with three fewer selling days, including one less weekend, than a year ago. And it was the result of a strong desire by consumers to purchase, not a lure of rich incentives because they did not exist. Edmunds.com's estimates put incentive spending for the industry at its lowest level in almost seven years.
"April gave the clearest indication yet that consumer motivation is high and that automakers feel little pressure to rely on incentives in order to keep sales churning," said Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell. "We'll likely see incentives linger at these low levels until auto sales ease off the torrid pace we've seen so far in 2012."
The performance by manufacturers was mixed. Toyota returned to pre-earthquake sales levels as Honda still struggled. Chrysler had another booming month as did Volkswagen. But General Motors and Ford had lower sales and share than a year ago. Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia set April records but on largely flat sales largely due to capacity constraints. Nissan sales were also flat after a blistering March to close out its fiscal year.
Auto executives are optimistic for the remainder of the year. GM upped its 2012 forecast to 14 million to 14.5 million from a previous range of 13.5 million to 14 million, in line with other automakers and analysts. Edmunds.com recently upped its forecast to 14.4 million based on an improving economy and continued release of pent-up demand.
GM: General Motors Co. reported April sales of 213,387 vehicles, down 8 percent from a year ago. GM said retail sales were essentially flat while fleet sales declined due to purposely lower rental car sales. GM's performance was a mixed bag. Three of its four brands — Buick, Cadillac and Chevrolet — had lower sales than a year ago. GMC was the only brand enjoying an increase in sales (up 5 percent in total and up 17 percent on the retail side). Its gain came on the strength of the Sierra pickup truck (up 20 percent) and Terrain crossover (up 9 percent).
Buick sales fell 16 percent in total. The automaker said retail sales were up 8 percent. A Buick executive tried to explain away the division's decline by saying the brand is converting to a new, younger buyer. Still, Regal sales plummeted 37 percent and LaCrosse sales dropped 20 percent. The compact Buick Verano seems to be selling well, increasing every month since it went on sale last November to reach 2,989 units in April.
Cadillac nosedived 25 percent with retail sales flat as it is in re-building mode. It is discontinuing old models as it awaits the new flagship XTS and BMW 3-Series fighter, ATS. The Cadillac CTS sedan had an increase of 7 percent from a year ago. Cadillac's other volume leader, the SRX crossover, was down 9 percent. Chevrolet sales declined 8 percent but with retail sales up 13 percent, GM said. The new Chevrolet Sonic had sales of 6,387 units, a 38-percent increase over the Aveo it replaced. Volt sales totaled 1,462 units, compared with 493 last April. Also on the plus side were the Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, with sales up 5 percent, and Chevrolet Equinox, up 7 percent.
Ford: New-vehicle sales at Ford Motor Co. slid 5 percent compared with April 2011, as cooling car sales balanced an essentially flat month for the company's trucks and utility vehicles. Total sales for Ford in April were 180,350, compared with 189,778 a year ago. Starting the second quarter of 2012, Ford sales were tracking 4.8 percent higher than through the first four months of last year.
The most glaring decline for Ford's car business was a gaudy 43.9-percent April plunge for the Fiesta subcompact, to 5,139 units for the month. In a conference call with the media and analysts, Ford sales boss Ken Czubay intimated that declining Fiesta sales may be the result of improved availability of the larger — but hardly less fuel-efficient — Focus compact car. In April last year, Ford was struggling to supply dealers with the new-generation Focus. Now, year-to-date Focus sales are up 57.3 percent, while the first four months of 2012 have brought the smaller Fiesta a subsequent 29.9-percent sales drop.
Balancing the decline for Fiesta was the Fusion midsize sedan — due to be replaced by an all-new model this fall — which posted an all-time April sales record of 21,610. Sales for all of Ford's other car lines were up save for the discontinued Crown Victoria and the Mustang muscle car, which dropped 4.6 percent for the month to 7,801 sales.
Ford's sales backbone, the F-Series pickup line, was up 4.4 percent in April to a hefty 47,453 units — nearly as many sales as all of Ford's utility vehicles combined. Czubay said Ford is happy that many intenders and trade-ins for the now-discontinued midsize Ranger pickup seem to be opting for the larger F-150, particularly with increasingly popular EcoBoost turbocharged V6 option. Ranger sales dropped to just 1,990 units as remaining stocks continue to be sold off.
The company also said April was a record month for the Edge midsize crossover, at 10,520 sales, while the new-generation Explorer crossover posted its best April since 2005, selling 13,419 units. Sales for the always-strong Escape compact crossover declined 20 percent as Ford begins to phase in production of the all-new 2013 model, which goes on sale in the summer.
At the company's Lincoln luxury-vehicle unit, April sales slid 12.8 percent to 6,308 units. Sales for the MKS flagship were up 56.8 percent and the MKT crossover improved by 43.4 percent to 654 units, but April sales for the brand's volume leader, the MKZ midsize sedan, fell 16.8 percent to 1,863 units. Year-to-date Lincoln sales, at 27,144, are off 0.4 percent compared with the same period last year.
Toyota: Toyota reported a 12-percent increase in sales in April to 178,044 Toyota, Lexus and Scion brand vehicles sold. The year-ago April was when the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami began to impact Japanese vehicle production and subsequently sales. Toyota's return resulted in a market share of 15 percent, its highest in since December 2010, and put Toyota only 1,600 vehicle sales shy of surpassing Ford, which took the No. 2 sales spot from Toyota last year.
Toyota accomplished its sales gains without hefty incentives. Edmunds.com's estimates put the average Toyota incentive at $1,388 a vehicle, down 20 percent from a year ago and up only 1 percent from March. In addition, its hybrids, from the Highlander to Prius C — are selling quickly. Edmunds.com shows the average Toyota hybrid stays on the dealer lots no more than 25 days.
"April was an excellent month for Toyota and a good month for the industry," Bob Carter, Toyota Division group vice president and Toyota Motor Sales general manager. said in a conference call with analysts and media. "With consumer confidence improving, we expect to see sustained industry growth in the months ahead."
Toyota Division sales, up 13 percent from a year ago to 160,493 vehicles. April marked a new monthly record for Prius, which has proliferated from a single model to a family since last April with 25,168 units sold, up 15 percent. The breakout of Prius sales are: standard issue Prius liftback, 15,661; larger Prius V, 3,847; smaller entry-level Prius C, 4,006; and plug-in hybrid Prius, 1,654. Toyota's Carter said the V and C are capacity constrained. He said 72 percent of Prius V buyers are new to the Toyota brand, with very few Prius liftbacks being traded in on them.
The Toyota Camry also had a strong month; combined sales of the Camry and Camry Hybrid totaled 36,820 vehicles, up 36 percent from a year ago. Corolla sales rose 15 percent to 24,805 units. Avalon, which will be replaced with a far more stylized model later this year, were up 21 percent to 2,881 vehicles. RAV 4 sales were up 10 percent to 15,196 vehicles. Sales of 4Runner, Highlander and Tacoma were up. Sienna minivan and Tundra pickup sales dropped.
Scion sales rose 8 percent. Lexus sales were roughly flat. Lexus replaces its high-volume RX crossover and ES sedan this year. The newly introduced GS is seeing triple-digit sales increases.
To make sure May continues the momentum, Toyota announced May would mark its second national sales event to focus on Toyota as the full-line automaker with the most fuel-efficient vehicles. The promotion will offer zero-percent financing on seven of its most popular models, including the Corolla and RAV4, as well as special lease rates on nearly every Toyota model, including the Camry and Corolla.
Chrysler: Chrysler Group had yet-another big month with sales of 141,165, up 20 percent from last April. The automaker said it was its best April since 2008. "We recorded our 25th-consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth, and we reported our strongest quarterly profit in 13 years," noted Reid Bigland, president and CEO of the Dodge Brand and head of U.S. sales, in a statement.
Gains were across the board by brand and, with only a few exceptions, by model. Even better, Chrysler's sales increases were not accomplished with hefty customer incentives. Edmunds.com estimates the average incentive on a Chrysler model was $2,495 in April, flat with March and up less than 4 percent from last April. In addition, Chrysler's inventories remain in check with a 59-days supply, right at the industry ideal.
Dodge brand sales were up the least at 2 percent but still was the nameplate's best April since 2008. Dodge is awaiting the launch of the compact Dart in June. Dart production was delayed from early April to early May at Chrysler's Belvidere, Ill., by the shortage of an unspecified component. Meantime, the midsize Avenger sedan set an all-time sales record and the Challenger muscle car set a new April record.
Chrysler brand sales rose 56 percent for its best April in five years. Its trio of models all posted gains with the midsize 200 sedan up 61 percent, the full-size 300 up 138 percent and the Town & Country minivan up 22 percent.
Jeep sales were up 19 percent for the brand's best April since 2007. Jeep Wrangler, which added an Unlimited Altitude edition in April, had 35 percent higher sales than a year ago, setting a new April sales record. Jeep Grand Cherokee sales rose were up 21 percent. Chrysler said the Detroit plant that makes the Grand Cherokee will not be closed for a summer vacation as it typically does due to strong consumer demand for the SUV. The plant, which also makes the Dodge Durango, is working overtime on two shifts and some Saturdays.
Ram pickup sales rose 19 percent, their best April sales in four years. The brand launches the 2012 Ram 1500, introduced at the New York auto show in April, later this year. It will be equipped with a more powerful and fuel efficient V6 as well as other fuel-saving features including an eight-speed automatic transmission and a stop-start system.
Fiat gained some traction in April posting its best sales month ever with sales of 3,849, compared with 882 units last April. The new Abarth version was added to the line in April.
Honda: Sales at American Honda were effectively flat in April, with total sales of 122,012 being close enough to April 2011's result of 124,799 that this April's actual result either was down 2.2 percent or up 10 percent when taking into account an unusual month with three fewer selling days than the prior year.
Keeping with Edmunds.com's practice of reporting sales comparisons unadjusted for the number of selling days in a given month, April sales for the Honda division were off 3 percent, despite a best-ever April for the CR-V compact crossover (23,627 units, a 9-percent gain) and a gigantic month for the Accord midsize sedan at 35,385 sales. And sales for the Civic compact car were a healthy 24,423, although that number was a decline of 8.8 percent compared with last April. And perhaps demonstrating easing concern about gasoline prices, sales for the Fit subcompact car were down a heavy 60.5 percent to 3,202 units.
In addition to the CR-V, the rest of Honda's "trucks" generally performed better than the company's cars in April, with sales for the Odyssey up 5.2 percent to 10,476 and the Ridgeline up 10.8 percent, although the Ridgeline's total was just 1,055 units. Sales for the Pilot midsize crossover dropped 7 percent, however, and the unloved Crosstour version of the Accord declined 16.9 percent to 1,769 sales.
Honda's Acura upscale division more than held its own in April, with overall sales of 12,175 representing a 4.9-percent unadjusted gain compared with April 2011. The brand's volume leader for the month was the MDX, where 3,952 sales amounted to a 1-percent gain. The TSX entry sedan — soon to lose that title to the all-new ILX, which goes on sale later this month — was up 1.1 percent to 3,138 sales, while Acura's best gainer in April was the newly redesigned RDX, where 1,984 sales marked a solid 47.7-percent improvement.
Nissan: Nissan North America, Inc., which includes the Nissan and Infiniti brands, reported April sales of 71,329 units about flat with last year's 71,526 units a year earlier. Nissan Division sales decreased 8.9 percent for the month at 64,200 units. Sales of Infiniti vehicles were up 5.4 percent over the prior year, to 7,129 units.
"There is a lot of volatility in the Nissan numbers, and much of it has to do with the company's fiscal year structure," said Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell. "Nissan finished its 2012 fiscal year with a frenzy in March, and as a result, month-over-month sales dropped by almost a half in April." Indeed, added Al Castignetti, Nissan Division vice president and general manager: ""Coming off of a blockbuster March, April showed signs of strength with record months for Versa and Rogue, and solid gains for our trucks."
Nissan Division posted sales of 64,200 vehicles, down 8.9 percent from last April. Nissan Versa set a new April record with 8,335 sold for a 30-percent increase. Nissan Rogue also set a new April record at 8,563 units, up 1.8 percent. On the truck and SUV side, Frontier, Pathfinder, Titan and Quest all made gains.
Nissan is winding down its current Altima, which accounts for a quarter of Nissan brand sales, to make way for the redesigned version. Nissan Altima sales for April totaled 16,239 units, down 5.8 percent.
Infiniti had sales of 7,129 units, up 5.4 percent. In its first full month of sales, Infiniti JX deliveries totaled 2,079 units, making it the brand's second-best selling model.
Hyundai: April delivered clear-cut perspective on the extensiveness of Hyundai Motor America's sales explosion in the U.S. It was the brand's best-ever April in the U.S. market, but the total of 62,264 sales amounted to just a 1-percent gain over last April — which itself was a record. A sales run fueled, perhaps, by high levels of fleet action when necessary? Forget it — Hyundai claimed in April its fleet sales were less than 10 percent of its business.
Nonetheless, April sales results showed Hyundai's momentum is bound to plateau. Sales for most of Hyundai's best-sellers — Elantra, Sonata, Tucson — were down when compared with last April. If it weren't for 3,192 units of new business from the Veloster 3-door coupe — not to mention solid gains from the all-new Azera full-size sedan (up 500 percent to 943 sales), Genesis sedan and coupe (up 33 percent to 3,548 sales) and a 10-percent gain (to 6,318 units) for the Santa Fe — Hyundai's overall sales would have handily trailed last year's record April.
Bucking the trend several other competitors endured, Hyundai's subcompact Accent gained in April, posting a healthy 40.3-percent gain on 6,160 sales — a number that easily eclipsed the subcompacts of several rivals, including Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit. At the other side of Hyundai's showroom, its presumptive flagship, the all-new Azera full-size sedan, leapt to 953 sales compared with just 191 for the previous Azera last April.
But the numbers unquestionably are catching up with Hyundai. The Sonata's April total of 20,521 was more than 1,000 units short of last year; Elantra sales, at 16,836, were more than 5,000 units adrift. Surely pondering that trend, Hyundai confirmed at the end of April that it will add a third shift at its assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala., early this fall. The plant builds both the Sonata and Elantra.
Kia: How hard are year-over-year comparisons becoming for Kia Motors America? As with its Hyundai brand-cousin, Kia had a month of record sales in April, yet it only can report an actual sales gain of 1 percent. Kia's record of 47,550 sales in April surpassed the company's sales performance from April, 2011, by just 476 units — although this April did have three fewer selling days.
Still, a record month is a record month, and it was all thanks to an outsized 69-percent gain for the sleek Optima midsize sedan, which burst to 11,021 sales for the month. The brand's only other gainers were the Rio subcompact (+56 percent to 4,006 sales) and the Soul compact hatchback, where its 10,716 sales put it barely ahead of last April's pace but made the Soul the second-best seller for Kia. The Forte, Sportage, Sedona and Sorento all saw sales slides for the month, led by Sorento's 20-percent plunge to 9,610 units. With seven models on sale, Kia's year-to-date sales of 185,610 at the end of April nonetheless were running 22 percent ahead of the same period last year.
Volkswagen: Volkswagen of America sold 37,525 vehicles, a 31.5-percent increase from a year ago for its best April since 1971. Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen of America, noted that through end of April the brand has sold more vehicles than it did through end of May last year. "We expect the growth momentum to continue." Browning said Volkswagen's sales gains are coming at the expense of Honda, Toyota and Ford. Volkswagen sold 10,096 editions of the U.S.-built Passat for its best month ever and its second month of 10,000-plus units. The recently redesigned Beetle had its best sales since 2003 with more than 2,000 sold in April; the diesel coupe goes on sale in late summer. The GTI also had its best April sales ever. Despite sales down 7.6 percent, the Jetta remained the volume leader with 15,658 sold. Touareg and Golf sales were up while Tiguan, CC and Routan sales were down.
It was the best month in Volkswagen's U.S. history for diesel sales. TDI models accounted for 21.3 percent of sales in April, up 353.2 percent. Browning predicted diesels will account for about 25 percent of sales over time. Volkswagen has been capacity constrained with diesels, especially for the Jetta SportWagen. More than 80 percent of the wagons are sold with diesel engines.
BMW: BMW of North America LLC enjoyed a 6.1-percent sales gain in April, but results were mixed, where the BMW brand's 12-percent sales improvement was balanced by an 11.1-percent decline for its Mini small-car unit. In total, the BMW Group in the U.S. sold 26,793 vehicles in April, with the BMW brand accounting for 21,062 units of the total.
For BMW, the volume star was the all-new 3-Series. The redesigned version of BMW's best-seller found 9,003 buyers in April, a 20.8-percent gain over April, 2011. BMW's only other car line to gain in April was the 6-Series, which posted a 92.9-percent gain to 513 units. Sales for every other BMW car line were down for the month, led by a 38.1-percent slide for the 1-Series (to 741 sales) and a 32.1-percent decline for the 7-Series flagship to 516 units.
Crossovers fared better than BMW's cars in April, with the X5 midsizer posting a healthy 50.9-percent sales gain to 3,561 units. Sales for the X3 were up 8.9 percent to 2,479, but the X6 slid by 22.4 percent to 405 units. Overall, however, crossover sales improved by 24.9 percent.
BMW's Mini unit seemingly was not able to cash in on lingering concerns about gasoline prices, the brand's 11.1-percent sales decline leading to losses for each of its existing models that were on sale last April. Incremental new sales came with the new Mini Coupe (290 sales) and Roadster (258 deliveries in April). The Clubman saw sales drop 36.9 percent, however, to just 508 units, while sales for the standard Cooper hardtop were off 22.2 percent to 2,621 units.
Subaru: Subaru of America, Inc. reported record sales of 26,310 vehicles for April, a 6-percent gain from a year ago. Subaru's strength came from the recently redesigned Impreza, which had a triple-digit increase to 6,791 units. "The all-new Impreza continues its very strong launch and we are working to match demand with supply," noted Bill Cyphers, senior vice president of sales.
Added Thomas J. Doll, executive vice president and COO: "Subaru sales have exceeded 100,000 in four months — a first in our company's 44 year history. With new vehicle introductions on the horizon, we expect 2012 to be another banner year for our brand."
Mercedes-Benz: Another April, another Germany luxury-make sales record, this for Mercedes-Benz USA, where a 23.8-percent sales gain resulted in an all-time April record of 22,336 sales. Adding sales from the company's smart city-car unit and its Sprinter commercial vehicles, Mercedes-Benz sold a total of 25,066 vehicles in April.
Although Mercedes enjoyed a big 22.8-percent boost for from its volume-leading C-Class (to 6,424 sales), the gaudiest sales gains in April came from its low-volume niche models. The revised CLS-Class jumped 522.1 percent to 647 sales and there was a 215.5-percent leap for the SLK roadster, which found 467 buyers in April. The rich-guy-bait SLS AMG chipped in with 104 sales — a 92.6-percent gain — and sales for the all-new SL roadster improved by 47.9 percent to 250 units.
Also posting healthy increases were Mercedes-Benz's crossovers, with the midsize M-Class up by 53.6 percent to 3,057 units and the full-size GL-Class closely trailing with 2,768 sales in April, a 70.5-percent rise. And perhaps some indicator of an improving economy, sales for the Sprinter commercial van leaped 76.3 percent to 1,966 units.
Mazda: Mazda report sales of 21,506 vehicles, for a 4-percent increase and marking the brand's best April sales since 2008. April sales put Mazda over the 100,000 vehicle mark for the year, a feat not achieved since 1994.
Mazda's strength is coming from the newly launched 2013 Mazda CX-5. The automaker sold 3,521 CX-5s in its second full month on the market. Mazda 6 sales rose 38 percent to 3,780 units.
Audi: The Volkswagen Group's Audi of America Inc. joined several automakers in reporting a record April. The premium-car unit's record April consisted of 11,521 sales, a 15-percent improvement compared with April, 2011. The company said April not only marked its 16th consecutive month of record-setting U.S. sales, it also was Audi's fourth-best sales month ever in the U.S.
This despite the fact sales for the brand's volume leader, the A4 entry sedan, were off by 6.6 percent in April to 3,108 units. That loss was offset by a 136.8-percent jump for the A6 to 1,565 sales and 702 sales for the A7, a 91.2-percent gain compared to last April. Other solid gainers included the Q5 compact crossover (+24.5 percent to 2,462 sales) and the larger Q7, which was up 12.3 percent to 887 units.
Apart from the A4, Audi's only other vehicles to see losses in April were the A5, off 1.2 percent and the A8 flagship, which dropped 28.7 percent to 358 sales. The exotic R8 also dropped 19.3 percent to 92 sales. Year-to-date Audi sales are up 15.8 percent to 40,991.
Mitsubishi: Mitsubishi sold 5,280 vehicles in April, down 35 percent from a year ago. Mitsubishi executives said the decline is due to models that went out of production last summer, a situation that will continue for several months. The automaker expects more positive results when U.S. production of the Outlander Sport begins this summer at its plant in Normal, Ill.
Volvo: Volvo Cars of North America had U.S. sales of 4,847 units, a 24 percent decrease from April 2011. Every model in the line, including the top-selling S60, posted a sales decline.
Jaguar Land Rover: Jaguar Land Rover posted sales of 4,365 vehicles, up 3 percent from a year ago. Land Rover sales, driven by the award-winning Range Rover Evoque.
Porsche: Porsche Cars North America, Inc. had April sales of 3,437 vehicles, up 4 percent from a year ago. The sports car maker sold 1,090 units of the new 911, a 69-percent increase over April 2011. Panamera sales were up 45 percent with 868 cars sold. Porsche sold 1,376 Cayenne models, a decrease of 13 percent over the same period last year.
Suzuki: Suzuki sales fell 17 percent to a scant 1,774 units in April, pushing its year-to-date sales 6 percent lower.