A dreary April in Detroit

Import sales rise, but the Detroit 3 plunge 16.8%

jteahen@crain.com

Same old, same old.

That was the story of car and light-truck sales in April, which means it was another terrible month for the auto industry.

Sales totaled 1,248,549, down 6.8 percent from last year. It was the sixth consecutive year-to-year monthly decline and the 10th in the past 11 months. April's total was the poorest for that month since April 1995.

April's seasonally adjusted annual rate skidded to 14.7 million.

Should the final 2008 figures come in at the current SAAR, the total would be down 1.5 million from last year's 16.2 million, and that is spelled R-E-C-E-S-S-I-O-N.

Truck sales collapsed in April, down 17.2 percent. If you omit crossovers, which are really station wagons — and, thus, cars — truck sales were off 24.8 percent. Pickup sales fell 19.9 percent from April 2007. SUV sales plummeted 32.8 percent.

Cars outsold trucks for the second month in a row — but hold the cheers, you car lovers. March car sales of 702,954 were the lowest in more than a quarter-century. April car sales, at 674,782, were 4.0 percent lower than in March.

Small cars do well

Small autos buttressed the car total as customers reacted to gasoline prices accelerating toward $4 a gallon. The price of fuel also was a big factor in the miserable sales of pickups and SUVs.

April sales gains for some of the itty-bitty cars were the Toyota Prius, 66.6 percent; Toyota Yaris, 58.1 percent; Honda Fit, 54.1 percent; Ford Focus, 43.5 percent; and Hyundai Accent, 41.0 percent.

Bad as the month was for the industry, it was considerably worse for the Detroit 3. Combined domestic sales of General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler LLC fell an astounding 16.8 percent from last year.

Every one of the 13 domestic makes showed a deficit. Steepest declines by corporations were 45.6 percent for Hummer, 40.4 percent for Chrysler Division and 26.1 percent for Mercury.

April was an up month for import-brand sales. The Japanese gained 5.1 percent, the Koreans climbed 6.5 percent, and the Europeans posted an advance of 1.4 percent.

Overall, the import brands moved ahead 4.6 percent.

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. (Toyota-Lexus-Scion) jumped 3.4 percent in April after four consecutive monthly losses. Nissan North America (Nissan-Infiniti) doubled that, up 6.7 percent, and American Honda Motor Co. (Honda-Acura) matched Nissan with a gain of 6.8 percent. American Honda figures are estimated.

47% share for Detroit 3

The Toyota brand trounced Chevrolet and the Ford brand in April and took over first place in sales for the year. In April, Toyota upended Ford by 17,813 sales and topped Chevy by 26,989. With 660,436 for four months, Toyota is 13,296 ahead of Ford and 26,874 ahead of Chevy.

Market share was another disaster for the Detroiters. It dropped to 47.4 percent in April, the lowest in history. That means that import brands captured 52.6 percent of the April market, far beyond the 1-1 ratio that the Americans have been trying to stave off for several years.

GM's market share was a piddling 20.5 percent for its domestic brands in April. Ford Motor's domestics fell back to 15.1 percent, and Chrysler LLC had to make do with only 11.8 percent.

By comparison, Toyota Motor Sales checked in with a rousing 17.4 percent share, and American Honda had 10.8 percent. c

You can reach John K. Teahen Jr. at autonews@crain.com
Tags: Retail

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