U.S. sales of new cars and light trucks for the Detroit 3 were down 8.9 percent in May, but it might have been only the shower before the deluge.
Last June, General Motors began its employee discount promotion in which customers bought vehicles at less than dealer cost. Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group started similar programs in July.
After a blockbuster June led by GM, industry sales roared to 1,808,802 in July, the highest monthly total in the history of the U.S. auto industry. Unless the traditional Big 3 come up with another blowout bonanza this summer, year-on-year comparisons in June and July will be mighty dispiriting.
Things are bad enough as it is. May was brutal for the Detroit 3. Their North American brands got just 52.8 percent of the market - the lowest monthly share of this year, and down a resounding 4.8 percentage points from May 2005. GM sales were off 12.4 percent, and the company lost 3.0 points of market share. Chrysler group sales dipped 10.9 percent, and Ford Motor fell 2.2 percent.
For the industry as a whole, sales in May were down only 0.7 percent (10,213 units) to 1,489,922 new vehicles. For the year to date, the count was 6,874,473, down just 0.4 percent from 2005.
Who's in 3rd place?
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. (Toyota-Lexus-Scion) bested the Chrysler group (Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep) by 44,447 sales last month to solidify its hold on third place in the United States. After five months, Toyota Motor Sales led by 56,924 sales.
In car sales, the Toyota brand sold 108,479 vehicles in May and outscored second-place Ford division by 26,723. For the first five months of 2006, Toyota cars lead second-place Chevrolet by 54,062.
Tiny Scion was a giant for Toyota in May with a gain of 36.8 percent over last May. Sales of the three Toyota Motor Sales lines were up 17.0 percent for the month.
American Honda Motor Co. (Honda-Acura) also was a big winner in May with an upturn of 16.1 percent over last year.
Cars vs. trucks?
Cars outsold trucks for the second straight month, this time by a robust 30,408 units. The May split was cars, 51 percent; trucks, 49 percent. Car sales were up 7.0 percent; truck deliveries were down 7.6 percent. For the first five months of the year, trucks are clinging to a lead of 58,755 units.
Pickup sales declined 10.5 percent in May, and SUVs dipped 10.2 percent. Blame the price of gasoline for much of the decline.
And it's not only the largest, most expensive SUVs that are feeling the pinch. Sales of midrange SUVs, such as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and Ford Explorer, slipped 16.2 percent in May, compared with a downturn of 17.9 percent for their large siblings.
But premium-priced large SUVs went up 21.8 percent thanks to the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator and new Mercedes-Benz GL class.
Are GMT900 SUVs stalling?
Rising fuel prices could cause the bloom to fade from GM's new line of full-sized SUVs. In April, sales of the Chevrolet Tahoe topped last year's by 29.6 percent, and deliveries of the GMC Yukon were up 31.4 percent. In May, though, neither matched its year-ago total. The Tahoe was down 1.5 percent, and the Yukon fell six units short of last year.
Those sales are hard to measure because the 2006 totals include the sell-off of the 2006 models as well as the 2007s, which were introduced in January.
Cadillac's Escalade is feeling the pinch, but it continues to ride high. Escalade sales were up 118.7 percent in April and 56.1 percent in May.
What's up with VW?
After several years in the doldrums, Volkswagen division is moving ahead. Sales were up 35.6 percent in May and up 23.6 percent for five months. The heroes are the Passat, up 85.6 percent in May compared with last year, and the Jetta, up 39.4 percent. The Golf/GTI, up 35.2 percent in May, and the New Beetle, up 29.6 percent, aren't hurting the cause, either.
VW's only weak sister is the Touareg premium-large SUV. Only 535 were sold last month, down from 1,311 a year earlier.
You may e-mail John K. Teahen Jr. at [email protected]