Sales of new cars and light trucks have been better than lukewarm in the first two months of this year, and the hills are alive with the sound of 14 million forecasts.
Maybe; maybe not.
True, the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate was 15.1 million in February, but nobody expects that to continue. If the 14 million rate can be sustained, it would indeed give the industry a shot in the arm.
It would be the best year since 2007, and it would be only 12.5 percent below the magic figure of 16 million the industry achieved for nine straight years -- 1999-2007.
I'm not a great believer in predicting full-year sales on the basis of two months' results; I prefer to wait until midyear. I did that last year, and my guess was 98.4 percent accurate. I predicted 12.6 million; the total turned out to be 12.8 million. The defense rests.
So let's look at February. It won't win any prizes, but it won't be taken to the woodshed, either. Sales of 1,149,432 were 16 percent better than last year and were over 1 million for the first time since 2008.
GM up only 1%
That's the good news. The bad news is that four of the seven largest manufacturers failed to keep pace with the market last month.
General Motors reported an almost non-existent gain of 1 percent (2,278 vehicles); Ford Motor was up 14 percent, and Toyota Motor Sales and American Honda advanced 12 percent.
Nissan North America matched the market, up 16 percent, and Chrysler Group and Hyundai-Kia Automotive left the market gasping in the dust. Chrysler was up 40 percent; Hyundai-Kia, 26 percent.
At GM, Chevrolet reported a 6 percent increase, and GMC held steady, but Buick and Cadillac will not remember February fondly. Buick sales were down 11 percent, and Cadillac deliveries were off 27 percent from last year.
And did you ever think Cadillac would be selling more trucks than cars? It started last September, six months ago, and a quick reversal is not in sight. Practically the only car Cadillac dealers sell now is the CTS lineup, and they don't sell enough to outpace their Escalades et al. The DTS (DeVille) and STS (Seville) are gone and nothing has replaced them to date.
Ford leads Chevy
Ford Motor continues to operate with only two brands, and no third member seems to be in the picture. Ford and Lincoln achieved an 11 percent upturn for the first two months and Ford leads Chevrolet by 27,844 units for first place in sales.
At Chrysler Group, percentages tell the story since all brands are hot. Chrysler has more than doubled its year-ago sales (up 114 percent); Jeep is up 30 percent; Ram, 15 percent.
With 12 percent gains in February, American Honda and Toyota Motor Sales are approaching their pre-earthquake numbers. Nissan North America has already returned to normal.
And Hyundai-Kia keeps churning along in high gear with February sales gains of a robust 37 percent for Kia and 18 percent for Hyundai.
Will we see 14 million for 2012? Quite possible, but wait a few months before you bet the farm.