Drive by Numbers - 2013 Chicago Auto Show Primer

Edmunds.com's Senior Analyst discusses the numbers that have caught her attention this week


 Jessica Caldwell, Senior Analyst Accounting for nearly 3% of retail sales in the United States, Chicago is the third-largest buying market in the country behind New York and Los Angeles. However, being positioned a few weeks after the big Detroit show, Chicago is in a tough spot, as it hasn't been the place where automakers have chosen to break big news in the past few years. That said, don't count it out, as the show is extremely popular with area car shoppers. A study by Foresight Research stated that the Chicago auto show is attended by an average of 27% of local resident households. Given the size of Chicago's population, that is a lot of people. And they aren't just tire kickers either; Chicago retail sales increased 28% last year from February to March. That was 10% higher than the national increase of 18%. What does that mean? The pressure is on for automakers, as people who go to the Chicago show are ready to buy.

Here is a quick drive by on the Chicago Show Highlights:

Toyota Tundra
Somewhat lost among the Detroit titans, the Tundra has seen its market share shrink after its peak in July of 2007 when it accounted for 13% of the large truck market. It had a few strong months later in 2007 and 2008, but it never surpassed a double-digit truck market share figure in the post Lehman Brothers world.

 Truck Sales

The truck market, as a whole, has struggled through this economic downturn. In the boom times of 2005, the large truck market made up more than 15% of all new cars sold. In 2012, this number has gone down to less than 12% and in a 14.5 million new vehicle market that's a lot of trucks. So now, not only is the Tundra fighting for a smaller piece of a smaller pie, but it's facing very stiff competition. There are compelling new trucks from Chevrolet, GMC and Ram, and the promise of a new Ford F-150 that will most likely be on sale next year.

Chicago residents aren't a huge truck-buying population, with trucks accounting for only 5% of retail sales, but there literally wasn't any space at the Detroit auto show for more truck news. The major challenge facing the Tundra will be to get on the shopping list of segment leader Ford F-150. Edmunds.com cross-shopping data shows that the Tundra does fairly well against the Silverado and Ram shoppers, but doesn't hold up as well against the F-150.

 Toyota Tundra Cross Shopping

That task is easier said than done, as truck buyers are an extremely loyal bunch. In 2012, 36% of Ford F-150s trade-ins resulted in another Ford F-150 purchase. The Chevy Silverado is in the same neighborhood. To put it in context, some brands don't even have that type of loyalty. The Toyota Camry, which is also known for having a loyal following, checked in at 33% in 2012 with an all-new Camry on sale to entice current owners.

With all the truck news in 2013, this will be one of the most interesting segments to watch this year. And one Wall Street loves to talk about.

Chevrolet Cruze Diesel
The Chevy Cruze lost some steam in 2012 when its Japanese competitors recovered from their inventory shortages following the tragic Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Cruze went from the second best-selling compact car in the country in 2011 to number four in 2012.

 Car Sales

In terms of retail customers, however, the car is popular in Chicago, being the 8th most registered vehicle in 2012. The diesel Cruze will be something new to the segment and something its chief competitors don't have. Rather than diesel, the other segment heavyweights have gone the advanced drive route. Civic offers the hybrid, Focus offers the EV and Toyota offers the many flavors of the Prius.

Currently, VW controls the majority of the passenger car diesel market (with Jetta making up more than 50%) but a diesel Cruze is a menacing threat to the German carmaker. The Cruze has volume, awareness and the backing of the country's largest automaker on its side.

 Diesel Sales

Other vehicles that were shown in Detroit, but worth another look in the Windy City:

Toyota Furia Concept (Corolla): Compact cars are the most popular segment in the Chicago region, accounting for nearly 18% of retail registrations in the area in 2012. The Corolla has some ground to make up, as it was outsold by the Civic, Focus and Cruze in this area last year. The Furia is a bold concept from Toyota but from what I understand, it is close to the production version. Growing retail sales will be key for this vehicle, as fleet sales were rather high last year at approximately 20%. This, of course, isn't necessarily abnormal given its age relative to the competition, but it's something Toyota will want to rein in. With Chicago residents having a penchant for compacts, the world's best selling automaker must be hoping to gain some interest from the auto show attendees.

Acura MDX Prototype: The midrange luxury SUV segment made up about 3% of retail registrations in Chicago last year, which places it right in the middle among all vehicle segments. The MDX makes up about a third of Acura's volume, so they have high sales hopes associated with this new vehicle. The production version is expected to be almost identical to the prototype shown. And interestingly, I was told that the persona associated with the development of this vehicle is called "Family CEO": working, successful mothers. They designed the vehicle with this customer in mind so it promises to be quieter, have a smoother ride, and improvement in ingress/egress.

Corvette Stingray: As predicted, this car had an unbelievably enthusiastic response from the press and public following its big reveal in Detroit. But in the real world where sales count, the Corvette has sold ~12K-14K on average for the past few years (Chevy sold WAY more Volts in 2012) so hopefully this one brings up those sales numbers by appealing to a more diverse crowd. Corvette is a halo for the Chevy brand, and this car had insane traffic on Edmunds.com the week of its Detroit debut. When I ranked every vehicle in terms of page views that week, Corvette slotted right behind the Ford F-150 and in the top 20. Pretty major.

Cadillac ELR: In short, this is the Cadillac version of the Chevy Volt. I suspect it will cannibalize some sales from the Volt by people who desire a more luxurious car and nameplate. I'm curious how this relationship will play out, as Toyota never had much success with the Lexus HS versus the Prius. That said, the ELR has a very upscale exterior design when compared to the Volt. This will join the new ATS (North America Car of the Year) and XTS — creating a fresher lineup for Cadillac in 2013.

Lexus IS: This incoming model addresses the size issue by being noticeably larger than the outgoing model. Also, the exterior design appears to be a bit more-gender neutral -- the current model has one of the highest percentages of female buyers and the highest of any luxury car. Entry luxury segment space is getting tougher. The new Infiniti Q50, Mercedes Benz CLA and BMW 4 Series (a.k.a. 3 Series coupe) all looked pretty phenomenal. Great looks aside, the big question will be: who will offer the most attractive lease?

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Jessica Caldwell is the Senior Director of Pricing & Industry Analysis for Edmunds.com. Follow @jessrcaldwell on Twitter.

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