New-vehicle sales in the United States fell 8.0 percent in May. So why does Automotive News' veteran sales analyst, Senior Editor John K. Teahen Jr., think it was such a good month? We asked Teahen some pointed questions about sales results for May and the year so far.
NEWS ANALYSIS: Despite 8% decline, our sales guru says May sales were relatively merry
I consider May a very good month. New-car and light-truck sales totaled 1,499,899, just 101 units short of 1.5 million. And any time the U.S. industry sells 1.5 million new vehicles a month, its leaders should be standing on their chairs and cheering.
Compared with last year, May sales were down 8.0 percent. But last May was unbelievable -- 1.6 million sales, the third-highest month in history.
For five months of 2005, the total was 6,898,281, down 1.0 percent from a year ago. The seasonally adjusted rate was 15.9 million -- not spectacular, but not exactly chopped liver, either.
That's another story -- and not a pleasant one if you're wearing a Big 3 sweatshirt. The Big 3 had only 57.6 percent of the May market, down 1.1 percentage points from last May. For the year to date, the Big 3 had 57.4 percent, down 1.7 points.
The Big 3 are dipping ever closer to a 50-50 split with the import-badged brands. It won't happen this year or next year, but it's definitely coming.
The Chrysler group continues to shine, with a market share gain of seven-tenths of a point for the year. General Motors had 25.4 percent, down 1.6 points, and Ford Motor has slipped to 17.9, off nine-tenths of a point.
These are not happy days for medium-sized and large truck-based SUVs. The smaller car-based sport wagons are beating up on them. (Sport wagons are counted in the SUV segment.)
Sales of the truck-based models were down 20.3 percent in May and down 16.0 percent for five months, so the decline is accelerating.
Strangely, sport wagon sales leveled off in May, rising only 1.6 percent, and that's a development that bears watching. Sales of sport wagons rose 13.6 percent in the first five months of this year.
GM hopes to give the truck-based SUV class a boost by moving up the introduction of its new medium and big SUVs to early next year. So the question arises: Will GM be hitching its wagon to a worn-out nag?
But the General will hedge its bet. GM plans to introduce a dozen new sport wagons in the next three years.
Honda cars took a bath -- and, boy, did they ever get soaked! Accord sales were down 29.6 percent and Civic sales were off 30.5 percent, for a combined dip of 30.0 percent for those mainstays of the Honda brand. The Civic is long in the tooth; a redesign is coming this fall. The Accord simply had a lousy month.
Honda Division trucks were up 6.5 percent, thanks entirely to the new Ridgeline pickup.
Toyota trucks were off 8.8 percent, but the division almost broke even in cars with a dip of 1.6 percent.
I'll take "hot" to mean sales, waiting lists and the buzz around the water cooler. Ford's retro Mustang is certainly hot; it's outselling the Chrysler 300, which remains in that category.
The BMW Mini convertible gets a lot of attention, and so does the Mercedes-Benz SLK class, which costs about twice as much. The Infiniti M35/45 is a winner; the Porsche Boxster and Lexus GS 330/430 are winners, too.
On the truck side, nothing seems to be blazing. If there are any hot trucks, I'd list the Chevrolet Equinox and Colorado, GMC Canyon and Nissan Pathfinder.
I'd like to say yes, but I really can't. Car sales were up 1.2 percent for five months, but even the most optimistic car guy wouldn't call that a comeback. Cars still had only 47.3 percent of the U.S. market.
A car comeback needs another Chrysler 300, a few big winners from Ford and a blockbuster or two from GM.
Probably all of the above and more. GM has started the ball rolling by offering the hoi polloi the same discounts it gives to its employees. It's all designed to get 'em into the tent, as Phineas T. Barnum maintained.
Make no mistake. The Internet and all the other modern marketing tools are great, but showroom traffic is the lifeblood of this industry.
You may e-mail John K. Teahen Jr. at
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