February 2009 Sales Results Are In
By Chris Haak
Surprising nobody, US light-vehicle sales in February 2009 were down 41.3% versus February 2009. The only make with a positive sales number was scrappy Subaru, which managed to eke out a 1.4% gain. Hyundai – the big winner in January 2009 – was a relative winner as well, with only a 0.7% decline. GM’s sales decline was the worst among the six major brands at a staggering 53.1%. Ford’s sales declined 49.5%, Chrysler’s sales declined 44.0%, Honda’s declined 38.0%, Nissan’s declined 37.1%, and Toyota’s declined 39.8%.
Many smaller brands sufferered even worse than did the larger ones; Isuzu – in the midst of winding down its sales operations – had a 60.7% decline. Suzuki – a company that sells mostly fairly inexpensive, small cars – should seemingly do much better than its 60.3% decline. Mitsubishi was down 50.8%, and Maserati was down 71.4%. Mazda was down by a better-than-the-market 30.4%.
The European luxury brands did better than the overall market in most cases, but still fared poorly. BMW sales (including Mini and Rolls-Royce) were down 34.6%, Daimler AG’s sales (including Maybach and smart) were down 20.4%, Volkswagen (including Audi and Bentley) sales were down 19.9%, and Porsche sales were down by a less-poor 11.5%.
The news for the Detroit-based automakers is pretty bad. Ford seemingly is failing to distance itself from its nearly-bankrupt peers at GM and Chrysler LLC in the marketplace as the “healthy” American automaker, since even Chrysler fared better relative to February 2008 than did Ford. I’m sure Chrysler isn’t celebrating a 44% sales drop, though – and that drop only came after the company put the hardest of hard sells (including an emotional plea from Co-President Jim Press to dealers at the NADA convention in New Orleans to order more cars to keep the factories humming) and throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the market in terms of incentives.
GM’s troubles are more worrying. The company has gone back to Washington yet again with hat in hand, asking for more money than it anticipated needing in either of its two previous requests, mainly because the auto industry is in a full-blown depression. Each of GM’s divisions except for Pontiac (thanks to the Vibe) was down more than 50%, with Hummer setting the pace for failure with a 68.7% decline. Pontiac was down 40.7%. The results at GM were so ugly, it makes me wonder why they keep certain models in the lineup if they are supposed to be more or less volume models and are selling in the hundreds, not thousands, per month. Specifically, I’m referring to the Cadillac STS (357 units), Pontiac Solstice (248 units), Saab 9-3 (414) and 9-5 (68!), Saturn Sky (178), and the Hummer H3 (669), H3T (241), and H2 (143!). Granted, GM isn’t expending much effort in marketing any of those above-named vehicles, but maintaining a website for them, production facilities for the Kappa roadsters, and printing brochures and marketing materials isn’t free. Ford, by the way, has a few models in the same boat: the Mercury Mountaineer (437) Lincoln Navigator (365) SUVs, the Volvo S60 (273) and C30 (200) to name a few.
Chrysler actually had one model show a sales increase – the venerable Jeep Wrangler’s sales increased by 28.2% over the February 2008 rate. Otherwise, the news was just as sanguine in Auburn Hills as it was in Dearborn and in the halls of the Renaissance Center. First, I find it completely incredible that Chrysler is still selling new Crossfires, some three model years after production ended (52 of them were delivered in February 2009). The Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring, down 77% and 87%, respectively, have been complete disasters for the company. The Sebring only sold 1,448 units in February – that is completely unacceptable for what is intended to be a volume model for the Chrysler brand.
If the economy doesn’t turn around soon – or if these companies and the federal government don’t figure out a way to stimulate consumer demand for new automobiles quickly – there may not be much of an auto industry left a year from now. These sales volumes are simply not sustainable in an industry that has capacity for selling 17 million-plus units per year. The February 2009 SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual rate) was below 10 million. Ouch.
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