June 2009 Industry Sales Show Slight Uptick
By Chris Haak
It’s still nowhere near time to break out the champagne and declare the new-car market healed, but there were a few pockets of sunshine, as industry sales fell 27.7% in June 2009 compared to June 2008 (although June 2008’s sales were down 18.3%. Most impressive were Ford’s results, which dipped only 10.9% and were by far the healthiest of the major automakers. Ford saw sales increases from the Flex (+247%), Fusion (+26.0%), Escape (+1.9%), Expedition (+7.1%) and Ranger (+8.8%) in June, with the Taurus, Taurus X, Focus, Mustang, Edge, and Explorer all bringing up the rear.
Freshly-minted Chrysler Group LLC emerged from bankruptcy during early June, and in spite of trimming fleet sales significantly (according to the company, its fleet sales were down a staggering 95% in June 2009 vs. June 2008), but aside from Chrysler-touted retail market share gains (+1 percentage point according to the company, on the back of hefty incentive spending, according to Edmunds), the only model that posted an actual sales gain compared to June 2008 was the Challenger coupe, which was available only in SRT8 trim and was only just launching in June 2008. Notable flops from Auburn Hills include the PT Cruiser (-82.3%), Sebring (-65.7%), Charger (-58.2%), Grand Caravan (-59.1%), Nitro (-42.9%), Commander (-68.0%), and Compass (-53.4%).
Across town (not exactly in the same town, but close enough), GM’s sales weren’t as solid relative to June 2008’s as the company’s May results were to May 2008’s. GM’s overall light-vehicle sales were down 33.4%, with the company’s car sales falling 25.8% and truck sales falling 39.8%. Among GM’s many brands, Saturn fared the worst, with a 60.2% drop – thanks in large part to the Vue crossover’s 65.9% freefall (and the Vue is a fairly new model). Saab was second-worst, with car sales down 64.8% but truck sales (the 9-7x SUV) clocking in with a 9.3% increase. Pontiac – which is going to disappear completely from the new-car market in a few months – actually did better than expected. Whether you call it nostalgia or call it fire sales, Pontiac was down 26.9% in June, with a few bright spots such as the G8 (+135.8%) and Vibe (+25.2%) offsetting falling sales of the Cobalt-based G5 and the G6 rental fleet special. The now-discontinued Pontiac Torrent was down 50.2% as well.
All Cadillac models saw double-digit declines, with the CTS faring worst among the cars at -31.0% and the SRX faring worst among the trucks and utilities at -67.1% as production of the previous model had ended and mass production of the new front wheel drive-based model is ramping up. Buick was a bright spot for GM, with Enclave sales (+26.3%) pulling up the division’s total to “just” a 10.7% decline). The Lucerne (-26.8%) and soon-to-be-replaced LaCrosse (-25.9%) pulled the numbers down and show how much work GM has in front of it if Buick is to be a core brand. Having more than three models would be a good place to start. There were no big surprises from Chevrolet or GMC, except that the Impala continues to outsell the far-superior Malibu, in both absolute numbers and in its percent decline relative to June 2008, with the Impala down 10.4% and the Malibu down 16.0%. The Cobalt – soon to be mercifully replaced – was down 67.2% and the HHR was down 44.3%. The Suburban and Tahoe were down 64.7% and 60.5%, respectively, and the Colorado midsize pickup fell 50.2%. The Colorado’s big brother, the Silverado, now outsells the smaller truck by a ratio of 8.5 to one; Silverado sales were down 27.8% in June. GMC’s comparable vehicles saw very similar numbers, but with the full size Yukon SUVs dropping slightly less precipitously than their Chevrolet counterparts.
Across the Pacific, Toyota’s June 2009 US sales were actually slightly worse than the industry’s overall results, with Toyota’s sales sliding 31.9%. Toyota Division sales were down 31.4%, and Lexus division sales were off 16.7%. Lexus sales were propped up exclusively by the new RX350 crossover (+26.4%), while every other model was struggling with 30% plus declines (except for the IS, which fell by 19.9%). Scion sales were once again disastrous, making me wonder how long Toyota will continue the Scion experiment (down 64.1% as a brand), yet the fact that Scion will get a rebadged Toyota iQ means that it will probably continue on for at least a while.
The Toyota brand itself had few winners; the new 2010 Prius was up 10.5%, the RAV4 was up 4.8%, and the Highlander was up 0.2%. Unfortunately for the world’s largest automaker, the brightest news outside of those models was the Tacoma’s 20.5% drop. Other sales duds from Toyota were the Corolla (-52.7%, making the Cobalt’s numbers above look a little better than they do by themselves), Camry (-36.5%), Yaris (-38.1%), FJ Cruiser (-80.1%), 4Runner (-63.7%), Land Cruiser (-35.5%), Sequoia (-54.5%), Sienna (-36.6%), and Tundra (-49.3%). Toyota has capacity to produce 200,000 Tundra pickups annually without breaking a sweat, yet it has only sold 36,106 units to date at the halfway point. Ouch.
Nissan’s results were also poor, but not as poor as Toyota’s. Overall, Nissan/Infiniti sales combined fell 23.1%, but there were a few surprisingly good results mixed in that 23.1% decline. For instance, the Maxima (+71.7%) made a good showing of itself, as did the new 370Z (+11.3%). The mostly unloved Titan pickup was actually up 2.4%, but has only sold 8,804 units to date during 2009, so it’s really just a minor player in its segment. Sales flops at Nissan include the Altima (-33.4%), Sentra (-46.6%), Versa (-38.3%), Armada (-27.8%), and Murano (-27.7%). Somewhat surprisingly, the Pathfinder, Quest, Xterra, Frontier, and Rogue saw their sales hold up fairly well against very difficult market conditions, with all five models showing only single-digit declines. The new Nissan Cube – which we’re testing this week – is off to a decent start with 2,137 units sold in June. The Cube left a favorable first impression on me, so I’m curious to see if it will do the same for more buyers (and Full Metal Autos’s own Kevin Miller, who is its tester for us). Meanwhile, Infiniti sales were ugly,with only the Frankenstein-looking QX56 (+28.2%) showing a gain.
American Honda’s sales decline for June 2009 was 29.5% overall. The only good news for Honda was strength in Odyssey (+16.4%) and Pilot (+12.2%) sales. Everything else was a negative number, such as the Accord (-39.7%), Civic (-42.6%), Fit (-44.2%), Element (-40.9%), and Ridgeline (-28.3%). Acura sales were down 33.5%, with the slow-selling RL (-63.4%) selling even more slowly than it did last year. The TSX, a new model for 2009 and probably the best-looking of the current crop of ugly duckling Acuras, was down 51.2% in spite of the addition of a new V6 model to the lineup. The TL sedan, Acura’s bread and butter, was down 12.6%, but that wasn’t enough to offset the MDX and RDX both showing declines in the low 30% range.
One of the world’s largest automakers (depending on how you’re counting), yet not in the US, Volkswagen saw its US sales decline by 15.7%, easily outpacing the market’s decline on the back of a few strong models such as the Jetta (+16.0%), and – well – that’s about it. The Jetta’s 10,413 units sold were nearly 91% of VW’s June 2009 car sales. The CC (formerly Passat CC) added 1,214 units to the June 2009 tally that weren’t comparable to the June 2008 numbers because the car was only launched in recent months. Volkswagen’s Audi luxury division’s sales were down 8.3%, but that’s far better than what Lexus, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz saw. Everything in the Audi stable declined fairly rapidly except for the A5/S5 (compared to their launch sales last year in June) and the new Q5, which is outselling its Q7 big brother by almost two to one, raising Audi truck/utility sales by 118.7% over their one-model total last year.
Daimler AG, parent company of both Mercedes-Benz and Smart, saw a 26.4% decline. Every Mercedes-Benz model except for the awkward minivan-like R-class (+18.1%) saw double-digit sales declines. The M-class SUV declined 0nly 9.2%, but the two top-selling sedans, the C-class and E-class, saw declines of 23.3% and 36.2%, respectively. That’s not good news considering both are recent products with long product life cycles. By the way, Smart ForTwo sales were down 56.1%, so you can’t blame Daimler’s woes on the poor economy eating into luxury car sales.
BMW Group sales declined 20.3%, which was actually the smallest decline among larger manufacturers outside of Ford’s impressive results. The bestselling 3-series (which makes up about half of BMW’s overall sales) dropped just 12.9%, and the just-launched 7-series saw a puny 0.7% (or seven unit) decline. The all-new Z4 isn’t holding up as well, with a 15.7% decline. The X5 was actually up 0.8%, but the X6 fell 31.5% and the X3 fell 69.8%. The X6 sales can’t be good news considering the model is only a year old, and the X3’s sales make you wonder why BMW will continue to produce the X3 with the imminent launch of the new (but smaller) X1.
Former media darling Hyundai came crashing back down to earth in June, with a 24.2% decline and no positive numbers other than the Genesis (+6,026.7%), Accent (+17.7%), and Santa Fe (+21.9%). Sister company Kia came in with a modest 5.1% decline with only the Sportage showing an increase (+213.2%). I have no idea why the Sportage’s sales increased so dramatically, but it certainly can’t be on the vehicle’s inherent strengths – I was not fond of it when I tested it for a week. Hyundai-Kia saw a combined sales decline of 17.3%; still better than the overall industry but hardly setting the world on fire.
Among the smaller players, Suzuki embarrassed itself the most, with a whopping 78.0% decline. Suzuki’s problem was due to ceasing production of the XL7 SUV (-90.6%) for at least the remainder of the model year, the discontinuation of the Reno/Forenza (-97.1%), the SX4’s struggles (-69.1%), and the Grand Vitara’s struggles (-53.2%). A company that built its reputation on motorcycles and small cars can’t expect to succeed with such a miniscule lineup of them. The rebadged Nissan Frontier known as the Suzuki Equator doesn’t help in that regard, but did at least add another 300 units to the June 2009 tally that weren’t in the June 2008 numbers. Suzuki really needs to step up its game, or think about leaving North America. 22,408 cars year to date is not really viable for a mainstream manufacturer.
Speaking of unviable mainstream manufacturers, Mitsubishi had another bad month (but Suzuki probably would have taken Mitsubishi’s results in a heartbeat) with a 41.8% decline. No good news at the three diamonds company except for the Eclipse Spyder (-2.1%), Endeavor (+20.1%) and the on-death-row-for-two-years Dodge Dakota-based Raider (+18.2%). The Galant’s sales fell 63.4% – far worse than its midsize competitors did – and Lancer sales were down 47.3%.
Mazda suffered a 42.2% decline and had all models showing double-digit sales decreases. Worst was the Tribute (-52.5%) followed by the MX-5 Miata (-51.8%; review coming soon), the Mazda6 (-50.1%; far worse than its midsize competitors in spite of being a well-regarded new model), and the new Mazda3 (-46.3%). The Mazda3 news is particularly troubling because it’s a new model and is Mazda’s top seller by far; BMW would say the same thing – as the 3 goes, Mazda goes.
There were few bright spots to point out in the June 2009 sales results, but it’s always an interesting sport to see how creative the manufacturers’ PR departments can get in the way they spin the numbers. For example, Audi’s sales were down 8.3% (which actually isn’t too bad), but the press release didn’t say anything about that, and instead spoke of market share gains. Chrysler did the same thing, and has also employed the trick of comparing to the previous month instead of the same period a year earlier. The reason sales are comparable year over year instead of month to month is because the annual comparison takes seasonal variations into account. Imagine a headline proclaiming that Christmas tree sales were up 2,300% in December vs. the previous month and you’ll see what I mean. I don’t fault them for trying, but sometimes, it might be necessary to mention sales troubles when they’re happening. Otherwise, I’ll be here to do it for them.
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