Toyota, Chrysler, Honda and VW Group at top of class after midterms
John K. Teahen Jr. is senior editor of Automotive News
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect year for when U.S. auto sales recently hit bottom.
The academic year has ended, so it's time to pass out grades to the players in the automotive sector.
It has been a fair-to-middlin' year for sales of new cars and trucks. Certainly not great, and year's end will see a total far below the 16 million norm. But on the brighter side this year will be the third consecutive improvement from the pits of 2009's dismal 10.4 million.
Seven-month sales were 8,425,949 units, including 1,153,759 in July. July produced a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 14.1 million vehicles. Projecting seven-month sales over the full year puts the 2012 run rate a bit higher at 14.4 million. Either way, it's better than the 12.4 million SAAR in July 2011.
We'll award the industry a B+ for this year's work. It's a different story when you look at the individual corporations. I'd give General Motors and Ford Motor Co. no better than a C. They're up from last year, but not much. And last year was no prize for either of them.
Chrysler Group, on the other hand, rates a solid A, despite its rather puny sales increase of 13 percent for July following a 28 percent advance for the first six months of the year.
Detroit 3 trail imports
As a group, the Detroit 3 earned no better than a B- while import brands get an A, thanks to sparkling performances by Toyota Motor Sales, American Honda Motor Co. and Volkswagen Group of America.
Turning to individual brands, I break out the A+ banner for Subaru, Volkswagen, Chrysler, Jeep, Toyota-Lexus and Honda-Acura. Subaru and VW have been strong throughout the automotive depression, and Chrysler and Jeep have led the Chrysler Group's resurgence. Toyota-Lexus and Honda-Acura have made remarkable recoveries from the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.
Nissan-Infiniti, too, has made great strides, even faster than Toyota and Honda. Give them an A along with Mazda.
Aside from Chrysler and Jeep, there were no remarkable achievements among the Detroit 3 that would propel any of them to the Honor Roll. Put all of them in the B- class.
A Deutsch slugfest
Mercedes-Benz and BMW are staging their own little war for the privilege of being the best-selling luxury brand in the United States.
After seven months, Mercedes held the upper hand, leading BMW by just 111 unit sales. Last year at this time, BMW led Mercedes by 5,190. BMW also won the full-year clash last year, by 2,715 units.
Both makes have a lot of cars that don't run with the luxury steeds. At Mercedes, the C class (45 percent of car sales) is priced below the luxury standard. Likewise, the Bimmer 3 series (51 percent of car sales) is below true luxury. The C and the 3 are their brand's best-selling lines.
You can reach John K. Teahen Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.