After April bump, automakers seek better traction in May
John K. Teahen Jr. is senior editor of Automotive News
After a horrid April, the auto industry hopes to get back on the right sales track in May. The right track is the path to 14.5 million sales for the year.
The industry was sailing along in rather calm waters for the first three months of this year. Then came April, and the seas got choppy and the waves rose high.
In March, sales totaled 1,404,623 new cars and light trucks. In April, the count declined to 1,184,567, a dip of 220,056 units, or 16 percent.
April used to be considered the start of the spring selling season. Not this year. Unless the pace improves dramatically, it will be a chilly spring at best, a wet and rainy spring at worst.
Auto executives, both foreign and domestic, are putting their faith in that childhood verse “April showers bring May flowers.” Auto execs are chock-full of optimism; if you’re not an optimist, you don’t belong in the car business.
The optimists will point delightedly to the fact that April sales topped last year’s by 2 percent. Shame. Shame. Anyone who takes comfort in a minuscule increase over 2011 just hasn’t been paying attention the last few years -- 2011 was a lousy year, not as bad as 2009 and 2010, but lousy. Just 12.8 million sales, 20 percent below the norm of 16 million. Anything less than a double-digit monthly increase is totally unacceptable.
Blame the Detroit 3 for some of the poor April showing. GM cut back sharply on sales to daily rental companies and its April total slipped 17,665 (8 percent) from March. Ford, now a two-brand company (Ford and Lincoln, no Mercury) sold 43,226 (19 percent) fewer new vehicles in April than it did in March. Focus and Fusion, Ford’s two best-selling cars, bore 15,820 of that March-April loss.
Market share up; Huh?
Chrysler Group reported a decline of 22,216 from March to April. So the Detroit 3 had a one-month deficit of 83,244 new-vehicle sales. Nevertheless, the Detroit 3 market share climbed from 43.7 percent in March to 44.8 percent in April. One of the vagaries of automotive statistics.
Toyota was the star of the foreign automakers. It is safe to say that Toyota has recovered from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March of 2011.
Toyota Motor Sales (Toyota-Lexus-Scion) reported a 12 percent gain over last April. In this case, it is proper to compare 2012 and 2011 because the former year indicates the extent of the natural disaster. Toyota’s U.S. dealers delivered 178,044 new vehicles in April compared with 159,540 a year ago. Toyota Motor Sales sold only 1,614 fewer new vehicles than Ford Motor Co. in April.
American Honda and Nissan North America did not fare as well. Nissan sales were flat in April and Honda’s were off 2 percent.
You can reach John K. Teahen Jr. at email@example.com.