For an industry that is working desperately to mount a sales comeback, May was a real bummer. Sales fell 4 percent from last year’s mediocre total.
The plunge knocked out all hope of reaching 14 million this year, and it made 13 million difficult indeed. To hit 13 million, sales will have to average just over 1.1 million each month for the rest of this year.
It isn’t likely to happen. Since the U.S. economic meltdown in September 2008, monthly U.S. sales have surpassed 1.1 million in five months: May 2009, May 2010, December 2010, March 2011, and April 2011. That’s five times in 33 months!
Sales dropped as low as 657,209 in January 2009. In a normal year (16 million sales) the industry moves that much metal in a little over two weeks. The auto recession continues, despite the rather encouraging results of January-April this year.
May down a big 4%
May’s sales were 1,061,841 down 4 percent from a year earlier. That 4 percent isn’t chicken feed; far from it. It’s 4 percent fewer sales than the puny figure recorded in 2010. The closer you look at May sales, the worse they get.
Car sales were down 5 percent, and truck sales dropped 2 percent. For the five months of the year to date, cars were up 12 percent, and trucks rose 16 percent. A comparison of those gains and losses illustrates May’s true level of disappointment.
Why were sales so bad? Many reasons, take your choice. Higher transaction prices, lower incentives, shortage of many models, $4-a-gallon gasoline, Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.
In the first four months of this year, the Detroit 3 led the way with a 21 percent gain over 2010. That came to a crashing halt last month. General Motors and Ford Motor Co. sold fewer new cars and light trucks than they did a year ago. GM was down only 1 percent and Ford 0.3 percent, a total of 2,701 units. But down is down.
Chrysler Group ran counter to that trend with a gain of 8 percent, so the Detroiters showed an aggregate advance of 1 percent. Numbers sometimes bring funny results. But the import-badged brands dipped 8 percent.
The biggest Japanese makers were hit hardest. Toyota Motor Sales was down 33 percent; American Honda fell 23 percent. Hyundai-Kia took up some of the slack for the Asians with a 34 percent gain.
12 brands post big gains
Continuing the funny numbers game: The foreign-badgers still led in market share, 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent in May. It was the closest the Americans have come to a 50-50 split since December 2008.
Saab was the big winner in May with an increase of 121 percent, but the Saab-ers are cautioned not to get overly excited. The fewer cars you sell, the greater your percentage increase when you improve. Saab sold only 174 new vehicles in May 2010, so last month’s 385 looked mighty good on paper.
Among the major brands, 12 posted year-to-year increases of 20 percent or more in May. Mitsubishi led with 60 percent followed by Volvo, Jeep, Kia Porsche, Mini, Maserati, Jaguar, Volkswagen, Buick, Hyundai, Suzuki.
Among individual brands, Ford lengthened its lead over Chevrolet in May and was in front by nearly 94,000 after five months. Toyota, bruised and battered by recalls and earthquakes, was a distant third, 146,251 behind Chevy.
In the corporate derby, GM, Ford and Toyota are solidly 1-2-3, and Chrysler and Honda are clawing for fourth place. After five months, Honda was 4,012 sales ahead of Chrysler. Hyundai-Kia Automotive and Nissan North America round out the Big Seven on the U.S. market.