Most Januarys, fleet is a welcome supplement to weather-battered retail sales. This January, fleet volume turned a fair month into a strong one.
For the seven largest auto companies selling vehicles in the United States, fleet volume provided slightly more than half of January's growth. The overall U.S. market rose 11 percent in January. For major players, retail sales were up 6 percent and fleet sales rose 25 percent.
But automakers took widely divergent fleet strategies, from Hyundai-Kia slashing its fleet mix to huge fleet surges at Chrysler and Toyota.
For General Motors, where total January sales fell 6 percent, a 26 percent rise in fleet sales helped offset a 15 percent drop in retail sales. Fleet sales rose to 30 percent of total GM volume, up from 22 percent a year earlier, but U.S. sales boss Don Johnson called the jump an aberration.
"We're planning for a total fleet mix in 2012 that's pretty consistent with in 2011," when fleet was 26 percent of GM sales, he said.
Hyundai-Kia Automotive cut January fleet volume by 14 percent, while retail sales rose 26 percent compared to the same month last year. Fleet fell to just 9 percent of Hyundai-Kia's sales mix in January.
Toyota Motor Sales' growth was almost entirely fleet, which jumped 50 percent to 22,000 units. Retail sales increased 1 percent to 102,500 units.
Chrysler Group boosted both fleet and retail in January. Fleet volume soared 76 percent to 30,000 units, pushing fleet to 30 percent of the total mix, compared with 24 percent a year earlier. But retail sales climbed 34 percent.
Ford Motor Co. and Nissan North America also balanced January fleet and retail growth, although on a smaller scale.
Nissan's fleet volume rose 15 percent and retail sales rose 9 percent.
At Ford, retail sales rose 8 percent and fleet sales were up 6 percent.
"Fleet was 29 percent of total sales," down from 30 percent last January, said Erich Merkle, Ford's chief sales analyst. "A large majority of our fleet came from commercial and government volume."
Merkle said commercial fleet represented 17 percent of total sales, government 4 percent and daily rental 8 percent.