May was a good month for new-vehicle sales in the United States. Not a great month, but a good one. It brought 1,334,642 sales of cars and light trucks, a roaring 26 percent gain over last year.
But wait a minute. May was 15 percent below 2007, the last year in which the industry reached 16 million.
But there's good news, too. May's sales pretty well assured that the industry's dealers will sell at least 14 million new vehicles this year, making it the best year since 2007. The five-month total is 5,986,599. Given a million-plus sales in June, which is no stretch, the half-year total will top 7 million. And, hopefully, the best is yet to come.
A 2012 total of 14 million or more is what most analysts are talking about, although they have changed their predictions so many times since Jan. 1 that it's hard to determine just what they are currently saying. But 14 million-plus seems to be the number.
Turn down the heat
I have taken a lot of heat for comparing 2012 to 2007. Much of the criticism runs like this: In 2007, all three domestic makers were losing money. Now, they're all making barrels of it. Doesn't that show that today's auto market is pretty darn good?
Sure, they're all making money, but at a cost. Ford Motor Co. mortgaged itself to the hilt -- right down to ballpoints and paper clips -- to stay afloat and avoid government aid. CEO Alan Mulally remade the company completely, and his people worked their butts off to succeed. Ford is solid now, and I salute Mulally and his troops.
It's a different story with the Chapter 11 twins. With Fiat's cash, Chrysler has paid off its $17 billion debt to the feds, but taxpayers are still on the hook for $23.4 billion that the Treasury Department has invested in General Motors' stock. The feds own about one-third of GM.
It is estimated that GM common stock would have to reach $52 a share before the Treasury could recover its stake. GM stock currently sells in the low $20s range. Will it ever get to $52? Don't hold your breath.
So the three vehicle manufacturers are all reporting profits, but only Ford is doing it on its own.
Detroit share slides
The seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales is not quite keeping pace with car and truck sales. The SAAR was 13.75 million in May, compared with a sales rate of a bit over 14 million. Strangely, in April, a rotten month for sales, the SAAR was a 2012 high of 14.4 million.
The Detroit 3 lost 4.1 points of market share in May, falling to 45.5 percent from 49.6 a year ago. Chrysler Group gained three-tenths of a point, but GM lost 2.4 points, and Ford was off 1.8.
Toyota Motor Sales, recovering from last year's natural disasters was the tastiest morsel in May's lunchbox. Its vehicle sales skyrocketed, up 87 percent, and market share zoomed up 5 points. Car sales of Toyota, Scion and Lexus topped those of GM's four brands by 17,030 units.
Significant gains by individual brands included Fiat, 128 percent (it was just getting under way last year); Toyota, 92 percent; Chrysler, 81 percent; Lexus, 74 percent; Infiniti, 66 percent, and Honda, 46 percent. c
You can e-mail John K. Teahen Jr. at [email protected]