On the strength of fleet volume, Nissan North America has moved past Hyundai-Kia America into sixth place in U.S. sales rankings so far in 2013. But overall, the Nissan group has backed off on fleet sales this year, while its Korean rival has gone in the opposite direction.
Nissan North America led Hyundai-Kia by fewer than 7,000 U.S. sales through February, but Nissan sold 10,000 more fleet units. If fleet volumes were equal for the two rivals, Hyundai-Kia still would be No. 6, where it finished in 2012 and 2011 after trailing Nissan for years.
Still, over the past three years, the annual winner of the Nissan-Hyundai race has been the one with fewer fleet sales, perhaps suggesting that marketers turn to fleet when retail softens.
In 2010, as upstart Hyundai-Kia pulled to within 14,074 units of Nissan in overall U.S. sales, the Korean automaker sold 28,200 more fleet units, making fleet 17 percent of its sales mix.
In 2011, Hyundai cut back sharply on fleet but took over No. 6 by 88,649 units even though Nissan had 39,400 more fleet units. In 2012, Hyundai repeated as No. 6, finishing 118,950 units ahead of Nissan although the Japanese automaker had 38,600 more fleet units.
After the first two months of this year, Nissan regained the lead -- just as both automakers reversed their fleet strategies.
Nissan still outsells Hyundai on fleet, but it is cutting fleet back sharply: down 19 percent in February and 22 percent year to date. And after two years of stressing retail, Hyundai fleet volume jumped 94 percent in February and 64 percent for the first two months, even as its retail sales were down 7 percent.
Once more in this rivalry, the leader in overall sales is focusing on the retail side.
Other major automakers are balancing fleet and retail activity more closely. For the top seven automakers, February fleet sales rose 6 percent and retail 3 percent.