DETROIT — It has been slower going than expected for the redesigned Chevrolet Cruze since its arrival in early 2016, but the car finally showed a glimpse of its potential in August.
Cruze sales in the U.S., which had fallen 33 percent this year through July, jumped 52 percent last month. August’s performance represented the car’s highest volume since June 2015, as Cruze retail sales surged 18 percent.
General Motors averaged 859 Cruze sales a day in August vs. 564 a day in the first seven months. After being outsold by the Ford Focus in August 2015, the Cruze nearly doubled up on the Focus last month. The results contrasted sharply with a 3.8 percent decline for compact cars across the industry.
More inventory was the biggest reason. August was the first month this year in which dealers had more than 40,000 Cruzes in stock. Even so, the surge in Cruze sales means that equates to a 48-day supply, which is still less than ideal for most dealers.
“I need a three-month supply to really make some noise,” said Michael Maheras, who has two Phillips Chevrolet dealerships in Chicago’s south suburbs. “But it’s definitely getting better, and we’re seeing a lot of conquest buyers, which is great.”
With more inventory for dealers to hawk, GM bumped up discounts on the Cruze in August. Incentive spending rose to an average of $3,474 per vehicle from $3,196 through July, according to Autodata.
The arrival of the Cruze hatchback also should bolster sales for the nameplate.
“We’re even more stoked about the hatchback,” Maheras said. “I just received my first one, and I’ve already got it sold. It sold in one day.”
Cruze fleet deliveries more than tripled in August, to 7,065 units from an abnormally low 1,686 a year ago. But year to date, GM has cut the number of Cruzes going to fleet buyers by 64 percent, or more than 40,000 units. Cruze retail sales are off by just 517 units on the year.
Inventory shortages of the second-generation Cruze were compounded by an April earthquake in Japan that knocked out a supplier of infotainment-systems parts for many GM vehicles. A resulting two-week shutdown at four GM plants, including the Cruze plant in Lordstown, Ohio, came just as output of the new model was hitting its stride.
Dealers say Cruze demand also has been affected by the vastly improved Malibu, whose sales are up 14 percent this year. Before the Malibu was redesigned last year, many customers who didn’t necessarily need a larger car might have decided to go with the Cruze instead.
Chevy accelerated its advertising plans for both the Cruze and Malibu over the summer after sales began lagging expectations.