At last, auto sales momentum builds in Calif.
LOS ANGELES -- California was so hard hit by the housing crisis that new-vehicle sales here plunged faster last year than in the nation as a whole. But the situation changed in the first quarter, as the sales increase in the Golden State outpaced the nationwide gain.
Meanwhile, Toyota-Scion saw its sales lead in California shrink in the quarter, while the Ford brand surged ahead of Honda to take second place. Three years ago, Toyota-Scion controlled almost a quarter of California sales. Now it has less than 20 percent.
According to the California New Car Dealers Association, sales through March in the country's largest market totaled 280,148 units. The 20 percent year-to-year increase compares with a 16 percent increase nationwide.
Tight credit, high unemployment and a large number of home foreclosures have hammered California. During the boom days of the state's real estate market, nearly 40 percent of Californians used home equity loans to buy vehicles.
In the first quarter, Hyundai and Kia combined added 1.5 percentage points of share compared with the first quarter of 2009. The Detroit 3 picked up 1.5 share points. Japanese carmakers lost 3.4 share points, with Toyota, Scion and Lexus losing a combined 1.5 points.
Still, Toyota-Scion remains California's top-selling brand. Sales were up 12 percent in the quarter to 53,230 cars and light trucks, good for a 19 percent share. But that's 1.3 percentage points lower than in the first quarter of 2009 and 5 percentage points lower than the 24 percent share Toyota-Scion held in the first quarter of 2007.
Ford brand sales were up 29 percent to 31,665 vehicles. Ford's share rose to 11.3 percent from 10.5 percent. Honda was up 16 percent to 30,637, with its share in California slipping 0.4 points to 10.9 percent.
The state's biggest retail sellers were the Honda Accord, at 9,266, and the Honda Civic, at 8,869.