How would you feel about sales of 14 million new cars and light trucks this year? Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?
Best I can tell, only one of the industry’s army of guessers has guessed that high. He is a banker, and he based his number of greater availability of auto credit. Most predictions are in the 12.5 million to 13.5 million range.
Now, another set of statistics indicates that 14 million is possible though, unfortunately, not probable.
You know about statisticians, the old question: What are the three degrees of liars? Answer: Liars, damn liars and statisticians.
I’m proud to be among the stats guys, although I object to the liar’s designation.
I think my credentials are pretty good. For five years, I handled statistics for all of the University of Detroit’s athletic teams. Part of my job as sports information director.
Then came 53 years in the National Football League doing Detroit Lions’ stats. And for the past 56 years, I have been crunching numbers here at Automotive News.
That’s a total of 114 years. I’m not quite that old. The Lions’ job ran concurrently with my other work.
Needed: 20.8% gain
But back to those 14 million sales. Last year’s total was 11,590,274. To reach 14, million, sales would have to increase 20.8 percent this year.
For the first three months of 2011, sales of new cars and light trucks were 3,060,140, which was 20.2 percent higher than in 2010. Since sales usually increase as the year rolls along, 14 million is not just pie in the sky.
But don’t put too much stock in percentage comparisons with 2010. Last year was a bummer. If sales were not up at least 20 percent, this industry would be in deeper trouble than it is.
It seems that U.S. dealers may well be able to sell 14 million new vehicles this year, but the manufacturers — both Detroit 3 and transplant — may have trouble supplying that many.
Parts suppliers in Japan have been brutalized by the triple disasters of earthquake, tsunami and radiation. The Japanese sell critical parts and components to the Detroit 3, and they provide their nation’s U.S. transplants with a wide range of gotta-have materiel.
When the Japanese parts makers will be back in full production is hard to determine. Some analysts say June. Others aren’t that optimistic.
The ever-rising price of gasoline is another problem. Premium fuel is already selling for $4 a gallon in the Detroit area, and regular-grade gasoline is expected to reach that point by Memorial Day.
Ford outsells GM
Ford Motor Co. wrote the big sales story in March as it outsold General Motors for the first time since February 2010 — and only the second time since July 1998, when GM was crippled by a strike.
The March score was Ford Motor, 212.295; GM, 206,621. For the year to date, GM leads Ford by nearly 100,000 sales.
Aside from Ford’s spurt, March sales for the industry were something of a disappointment. True, the total of 1,246,668 topped last year’s 1,066,298 by 17 percent, but the increase fell short of the 20.8 percent needed to stay on the 14 million path.
Chrysler Group was the runaway winner in percent of increase last month. Domestic car sales were up 41 percent, and its truck sales jumped 27 percent for a net upturn of 31 percent. Ford Motor’s domestic sales climbed 19 percent over last year, and GM’s were up 10 percent.
Among the top import brands, Toyota Motor Sales tumbled 6 percent, but its rivals all gained. The increases were Hyundai-Kia Automotive, 37 percent; Nissan North America, 27 percent; and American Honda, 24 percent.
Nissan and Chrysler are waging a stiff battle for fourth place in the industry. Chrysler led by 589 sales in March and 1,592 for the year to date.