If you’re looking for a clue to 2010 sales of new cars and light trucks, sit tight. The January-February results don’t help much.
Sure, two-month sales were up 10 percent. But it is only fair to ask, “10 percent from what?” The answer is 2009, and unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know what a bummer 2009 was. Sales of 10.4 million were the lowest since 1982.
A better comparison is with 2007, the last of the industry’s nine consecutive 16 million-plus years. January-February sales this year were down 37 percent from 2007.
But for an on-the-rocks industry that is grasping at straws, February’s 13 percent gain was encouraging, even if it was13 percent over February 2009.
The seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales was 10.4 million in February. That means that if sales continue at their current pace, the year will close with 10.4 million deliveries. The actual total probably will be higher; last year at this time, the SAAR was 9.1 million; and, as noted, the full-year count was 10.4 million. Sales didn’t get much better later in the year -- they just got less worse.
Sales must improve considerably if they are to reach the 11.5 million to 12 million for the year that is being swatted around. A 2010 total of 12 million would be a pleasant rise over 2009, but it would be a moonshot away from the 16 million of the recent past.
February sales were 780,463, up 13 percent from last year but down 38 percent from 2007. It was an especially happy month for Ford Motor Co., which posted a 44 percent gain for its domestic makes.
Ford’s No. 1
But best of all for Ford, it outsold General Motors and led the industry for the first time since July 1998. That’s 139 months. In 1998, GM was mostly shut down by a strike at its Delphi divisions.
Last month, Ford was buoyed by a 47 percent increase at Ford division. Mercury and Lincoln advanced 25 and 19 percent, respectively.
But Ford Motor needed a contribution of 4,641 sales from Volvo to beat GM. The General retained the lead in domestic sales.
GM was pleased by a 13 percent increase over February 2009. That’s comparing sales of the four surviving GM brands with the seven on sale at this time a year ago. On a four vs. four comparison, the GM survivors rose 33 percent.
Buick reported a 47 percent gain, thanks to the new LaCrosse, whose sales nearly tripled. Cadillac truck sales more than doubled, which offset a 22 percent drop for cars. Chevrolet and GMC moved up the ladder 33 and 30 percent.
Camry slips to 3rd
Even Chrysler Group sold more new vehicles this February than last, although the improvement was only 399 units. Toyota Motor Sales, beset by braking and unintended-acceleration problems -- and by inquisitive U.S. congressmen -- fell 9 percent for the month. Toyota was the only import corporation (more than one brand sold in the United States) to report a decline for the month.
The Toyota Camry, the best-selling car in the United States for what seems like forever, was third in February and is fourth for the year. The Honda Accord is the new leader, both for February and the first two months of 2010.
In February, cars and trucks ran a close race at GM, but Ford Motor and Chrysler Group remained primarily truck sellers. Trucks accounted for 55 percent of GM’s sales, but they won 61 percent at Ford and 69 percent at Chrysler.
Toyota Motor Sales lost 3.1 percentage points of market share in February, falling to 12.8 percent. Ford Motor picked up all of Toyota’s loss -- and more. Ford (including Volvo) had 18.2 percent of the pie, up 3.8 points and a tenth of a point ahead of GM. Without Volvo, GM led Ford, 18.1 percent to 17.6.
Among major makes, Buick and Ford division showed the biggest gains over last year; each sold 47 percent more new vehicles. Gains of 30 percent or more were reported by Subaru and Volvo, 38 percent; Audi, 34 percent; Chevrolet and Volkswagen division, 33 percent; and GMC, 30 percent.