Want a safe bet? Bet that this year’s new-car and -truck sales will be higher than last year’s pitiful 10.4 million.
Want a riskier bet with longer odds? Wager that this year’s U.S. sales will reach the 12 million total that is being bandied about by some of the industry’s most optimistic forecasters. It could happen, but it’s by no means a sure thing.
March and three-month sales results shed a little light on the subject. March was the best month since last August, when sales were inflated by the cash for clunkers promotion. March sales were fueled by healthy incentives.
Let there be no more yapping from the know-nothings who insist that incentives do not sell cars. They can, and they do. Just check the incentive and sales figures for the Big 3 -- General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Sales and Ford Motor Co.
The seasonally adjusted annual rate for March was 11.7 million, up from 10.4 million a month earlier. The SAAR is the sales total that can be expected if deliveries continue at their present pace for the rest of the year.
Don’t forget 2007
The SAAR was an anemic 9.3 million at this time last year; the current 11.7 million is pretty good compared with that. But it is still well short of the 12 million that would be considered acceptable by many of the people -- usually far removed from the auto industry -- who tell the industry how it is doing.
To reach 12 million for the year, the monthly adjusted sales rate would have to average 1,050,468 for the next nine months. It’s possible, but it is certainly not a cinch. Sales have exceeded 1 million only three times in the past 15 months.
In the first quarter of this year, sales totaled 2,545,791. That was a significant 16 percent better than last year’s puny effort, but it was 35 percent below 2007, the industry’s last 16 million sales year.
March brought 1,066,339 sales a gain of 24 percent over 2009. Hey, things are looking up. Not really, March sales were down 31 percent from 2007.
March was the month in which the Toyota brand sang: Look out world, here we come -- again. The Japanese kingpin, still beleaguered by unintended-acceleration and braking complaints, racked up 163,333 sales to lead the United States, and its Camry returned to its long-held spot as the best-selling car in this country.
Big gains – over 2009
But Ford division wasn’t far behind with 159,009 sales in March. Ford was up 46 percent in March, compared with 2009, a bit ahead of Toyota’s 43 percent gain.
On the corporate side, Ford Motor, including Volvo, pointed to a 40 percent upturn in March, just one percentage point less than the comeback rise of Toyota Motor Sales. Nissan North America topped both of them with a 43 percent upturn. GM bounced up 21 percent, and American Honda Motor Co. added 23 percent.
Each of GM’s four surviving brands showed a good advance in March -- 76 percent for Buick, 48 percent for GMC, 42 percent for Cadillac and 41 percent for Chevrolet.
Those gains are indeed substantial, but remember they are compared with the miserable results of 2009.
In March, while all the above was going on, Chrysler Group (Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram) suffered a sales decline of 8 percent. When your sales tank in a rising market, the man with the scythe has a gleam in his eye.