U.S. consumers reluctance to buy new vehicles -- especially low-mpg vehicles such as light trucks, SUVs and larger cars -- accelerated in May.
Truck sales plunged and major automakers posted sharp sales declines for the month. But small cars achieved record volumes at several brands and the sales winners in May were either fuel-efficiency specialists -- Suzuki, Volkswagen and Smart -- or were car-heavy brands such as Honda, Nissan and Hyundai.
Total sales declined 10.7 percent to 1.40 million vehicles. For the year to date, sales declined 8.4 percent to 6.22 million vehicles.
May was the first month since 1991 that the Ford F-series pickup -- the best-selling model in the U.S. -- was outsold. In this case, four fuel-efficient cars beat the F series: the Honda Civic and Accord along with the Toyota Corolla and Camry.
Its a significant development, but its not surprising given the fuel price, said Jim Farley, Ford group vice president for marketing and communications. May was a watershed month. We are as an industry catching up with the breathtaking choices that the customers are now making.
Four broad themes emerged from today sales reporting for May.
Small and compact cars are selling well. Besides the Toyota and Honda having the four U.S. best-selling cars, other hot cars include the Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, and Ford Focus and Fusion.
Large trucks are not selling. The Ford F series lost 30.6 percent. Chevrolet Suburbans, Tahoes and Silverados are all down 40 percent of more. The Toyota Tundra is off 31.5 percent and Nissans Titan plunged 55.8 percent.
Luxury brands are not selling. Cadillac, Lincoln, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Porsche and BMW all lost between 5 and 40 percent of their volume last month. The best performer among luxury brands was Mercedes, which was flat in May.
Large and low-mpg cars are not selling. Fords Crown Victoria is off 22.2 percent and Mustang sales fell 44.9 percent. The Chevrolet Impala is down 33.3 percent and Corvette sales dropped 12 percent. Even the Toyota Avalon lost 33.7 percent of its volume.
As expected, truck-dependent domestic automakers General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC got hammered. And even though its Corolla and Camry outsold the Ford F-Series, Toyotas overall sales dropped 4.3 percent.
GMs May sales fell 27.5 percent, although strikes at one plant and at key supplier American Axle limited its supply of the Chevrolet Malibu and other models.
Earlier today, GM CEO Rick Wagoner said a series of car and crossover introductions would boost GMs product mix away from trucks. Within three years, GM will sell 60 percent cars and crossover and 40 percent trucks, instead of todays 50-50 split, he said.