The February and two-month vehicle sales reports raise a lot of questions. Let's look at some of them:
Will Nissan and Infiniti fulfill Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn's prediction of 1 million U.S. sales for the fiscal year ending March 31?
It will be tough, but it can be done. At the end of February, fiscal-year sales totaled 907,491. That leaves 92,509 units for March. In the past 11 months, Nissan has exceeded that figure only once, last July. It fell a couple hundred short in December.
Nissan has one big intangible on its side: Carlos Ghosn said it will be done, and Carlos Ghosn is never wrong.
Have Volkswagen sales started to rebound? Has the new Jetta given VW sales a boost?
No and yes. No, VW sales have not started upward. They were down 8.6 percent for the first two months of this year, and every Volkswagen nameplate except Jetta was down from last year. And, yes, the Jetta is doing well. Can one nameplate rejuvenate an entire brand? The 300 sure did it for Chrysler. But the Jetta is no Chrysler 300.
How about the Honda Civic? In February, sales were down 34 percent.
Your grandfather isn't as spry as he once was, and neither is the Civic. And your grandfather doesn't have Hyundai and Kia nipping at his backside. A redesigned Civic is coming this fall, and all will be well. Maybe the Accord is a bigger potential problem; two-month sales were down 15.0 percent.
Is Mitsubishi still in a death spiral?
In a word, yes. Let the numbers tell the story. Mitsubishi sales plunged 25.6 percent in 2003; last year they dropped another 37.1 percent. For the first two months of this year they are down 45.8 percent. Perhaps "death spiral" is too strong a term, but I don't plan to acquire a Mitsubishi franchise.
How are SUVs doing? Which SUV segments have gone soft?
I do not like SUVs. I consider them oversized, ungainly gas-swilling beasts. So maybe I'm a bit prejudiced. But let's look at the numbers.
For the first two months of the year, sales of truck-based SUVs fell 18.7 percent. That includes all segments - small, mid-sized, large and premium. The priciest big boats held up best - Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, etc. They were down only 4.7 percent; the other classes dipped 15.0 percent to 29.0 percent. Does that indicate a sales problem? You be the judge. I vote yes.
Sport wagons are SUVs, too. How are they doing?
Sport wagons (some people call them crossovers) are doing great, thank you. Sales were up 13.0 percent in January and February. There are 29 nameplates on the market - up from 18 two years ago - and more are in the wings.
They are based on cars. They are lighter and more agile than the truck-type SUVS, and they deliver several more miles per gallon - not a small consideration in these days of $2-plus-per-gallon gasoline. Without question, they are stealing sales from the truck-type SUVs.
The Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum are doing well. How about the rest of the Chrysler group lineup? Any other stars? Any dogs?
This year the Chrysler Town & Country minivan is a star with a 43.9 percent sales gain. Otherwise, nothing in the Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep stable deserves an "attaboy" rating. The year's biggest disappointment is the Dodge Ram pickup. It's down 10.6 percent, but it's no dog. At 53,526 units, its sales are about double those of any other Chrysler group nameplate.
What is the retail sales vs. fleet sales picture?
Not too bright, according to J.D. Power and Associates. In February, fleet sales were well above their normal share of the market, as they have been for several months. Fleet sales keep the assembly lines humming, but they don't put much profit in the pockets of manufacturers or dealers.
You may e-mail John K. Teahen Jr. at