Looking for some good news in the dark and dismal new-vehicle sales picture? I had to scrape to find it, but try this: Bad as they were, Februarys U.S. sales were higher than Januarys.
But that has happened every year for at least the past 25. And aside from that kernel, February was a terrible month.
Sales plunged to 689,794 units last month, down 41.4 percent from a lackluster February 2008. Car sales were off 38.6 percent; light-truck deliveries declined 44.0 percent. In all, it was the worst February going back to the appearance of monthly sales data collection in 1976.
In January and February, U.S. retail sales of 1,346,727 units were down 39.4 percent from the first two months of 2008.
Last month, the seasonally adjusted annual selling rate collapsed to 9.1 million units, down from 9.8 million in January. Last years actual sales were 13.2 million cars and trucks -- a total that is almost certainly unattainable this year.
Dont blame the Detroit 3 for the entire disaster. True, combined February sales for General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC were down 49.3 percent from last year. But import brands tumbled 33.0 percent.
Losses, losses, losses
Six automakers account for 78.4 percent of the cars and light trucks sold in the United States. Heres how they fared in February compared with a year ago:
GM domestic brands, down 53.0 percent.
Ford domestic brands, off 48.2 percent.
Chrysler LLC, down 44.0 percent.
Toyota Motor Sales, down 39.8 percent.
America Honda, down 38.0 percent.
Nissan North America, down 37.1 percent.
Only three of the 42 brands on the Automotive News sales chart posted year-to-year sales increases in February. Subaru gained 1.4 percent. Kia was up 0.4 percent. Smart jumped 28.6 percent from its initial month on the market, February 2008.
Every one of the 13 domestic makes slipped at least 32 percent in February. Hummer was tops on the road to ruin with a decline of 68.7 percent. Losses for the three other brands that GM plans to sell, phase out or shrink: 58.9 percent for Saab, 57.2 percent for Saturn and 40.7 percent for Pontiac.
The largest February losses for other Detroit 3 brands were 62.8 percent for the Chrysler brand and 48.4 percent for the Ford brand.
Toyota creeps up
Toyota Motor Sales continues to tickle GMs tail for U.S. sales supremacy. In February, GM domestic brands sold 125,458, compared with 109,582 for Toyota Motor.
For the first two months of 2009, GM led by 25,832 sales. Last year at this time, GMs lead was 162,139.
Its no longer news that import brands are outselling the Detroit 3 on the domestics home turf. The count for February was Detroit 3 automakers, 44.2 percent; imports, 55.8 percent.
In the first two months of 2009, cars maintained a slight sales lead over trucks -- an edge of 11,309 units. Import brands kept cars on top: The Detroit 3 sold only 110,569 cars in February, while the imports sold 243,215.
Its another hangover from the 1990s and the first half of this decade, when the Detroit 3 ignored cars to concentrate on trucks. Now the market is calling for cars, and the Detroiters just dont have them.