Why fleet sales soared in July

Retail vs. fleet sales
Estimated retail and fleet volume for July 2014 vs. July 2013
RetailJuly 2014 retail salesJuly 2014 % retailJuly 2013 retail salesJuly 2013 % retailJuly % change
Toyota Motor202,80094%184,60095%10%
General Motors197,10077%189,10081%4%
Chrysler Group149,30089%125,70090%19%
American Honda133,20098%138,60098%–4%
Nissan N.A.103,40085%95,80088%8%
Top 71,050,40085%983,00087%7%
FleetJuly 2014 fleet salesJuly 2014 % fleetJuly 2013 fleet salesJuly 2013 % fleetJuly % change
General Motors59,00023%45,00019%31%
Chrysler Group18,40011%14,40010%27%
Nissan N.A.18,10015%13,30012%36%
Toyota Motor13,0006%8,8005%49%
American Honda2,7002%2,8002%-4%
Top 7178,20015%143,80013%24%
Source: Automotive News Data Center, manufacturers, industry sources

How did total July U.S. light-vehicle sales rise 9 percent? Among the seven best-selling automakers, retail volume rose 7 percent, but fleet jumped 24 percent.

That stark difference is tempered by July 2013 results. Then, the group's retail soared 16 percent while fleet sales fell to an extraordinarily low 13 percent of the sales mix.

Also in July, each major player reversed its fleet strategy, excluding American Honda, where fleet is assumed to be a flat 2 percent of volume.

Since the start of 2013, General Motors, Ford Motor, Toyota Motor Sales, Chrysler Group and Nissan North America consistently boosted retail sales while cutting or limiting fleet volume. But in July, fleet gains far outstripped retail growth, For example, GM's retail sales rose 4 percent while its fleet sales grew 31 percent. Toyota was up 10 percent on the retail side, but its fleet sales soared 49 percent compared with the same month a year ago.

Over the same period, Hyundai-Kia has boosted fleet to make up for retail losses, but its July fleet was flat while retail rose 4 percent.

Last July's atypical base explains many of this July's odd comparisons, but not all.

First, Ford traditionally leads U.S. fleet sales because of its strong commercial-side business. But in July, GM outsold Ford by 8,800 fleet units and through seven months is only 10,600 units behind Ford, 451,700 to 441,100.

Second, Nissan North America, Toyota Motor and Hyundai-Kia keep cutting into Detroit 3 fleet dominance. So far this year, the three Asian companies control 27 percent of major player fleet, up from 20 percent in 2010. In terms of the sales mix, Chrysler Group's current 20 percent fleet is closer to the 17 percent of both Nissan North America and Hyundai-Kia than it is to GM's 26 percent or Ford's 30 percent.

You can reach Jesse Snyder at jsnyder@crain.com -- Follow Jesse on Twitter: https://twitter.com/spartyjesse

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