After a bleak January, February offered Detroit automakers a whiff of spring. The Chevrolet Impala had a 60’s sales flashback. Thousands more customers went fission for Fusions. And Chrysler Wrangled plenty of loot from new Jeep owners (boosting their bottom line to help Daimler get the Hell out of Dodge). While The Big 2.5’s supporters may conclude that the numbers presage Motown’s long-awaited recovery, starting a Deathwatch Deathwatch may be a bit premature.
Scanning the February figures, looking at year-on-year comparisons, some models just plain took off. Sales of the Chevrolet Impala rose 43.9 percent. Sales of the GMT900-based Silverado increased 26.5 percent. Avalanches were up a whopping 109 percent. Over at Ford, 46.1 percent more folks fixed on a Fusion. Thanks to the new Wrangler four-door, the model moved 62.9 percent better than ‘afore.
Overall, Ford’s sales slipped 21.5 percent on the car side, 9.9 percent on trucks. Even with red hot Wranglers, Chrysler’s truck sales fell 4.6 percent, while car sales tumbled by 15.6 percent. Silverado sales pulled The General’s trucks up an eight percent incline. But steep declines in every division save Chevy and Saturn yanked car sales 2.7 percent lower.
To avoid premature recapitulation, you gotta factor in product freshness. For example, if you look at a February vs. February comparison for the new Avalanche, it looks like the model’s a solid sales success. However, this February’s buyers can sign away their life for a box-fresh design; last year’s buyers had to make do— or not— with a five-year-old design. The Silverado’s increase may conform to the same principle; “intenders” kept their powder dry until Chevy released the new truck. When Mellencamp’s motor hit the showroom floor, the pent-up demand created an initial sales surge.
By the same token, sales of the current gen Ford F-150 experienced a generous up tick for several months following the new model’s introduction. Now they're down 12.1 percent from last year. GM’s supposed salvation, the GMT900-based Chevrolet Tahoe, also started well. It’s down 24.4 percent. At some point, the Silverado’s momentum will require conquest sales and casual shoppers. With competition from Toyota’s new Tundra, rising gas prices and Ford’s new marketing push, it’s gonna be tough.
How did the “other side” (i.e. the foreign-owned automakers) do in this battle for domestic market share? Feb on Feb, Toyota Camry sales– benefiting from an '07 refresh– rose 17.5 percent. The increase seems to pale next to Impala’s 43.9 percent jump— until you clock the raw numbers. The Camry outsold the Impala by 14k units. The killer Camry also outpaced the Ford Fusion by almost 36k sales. The Honda Accord was Camry’s closest market segment competition– and it trailed the Camry by 7400 units.
Inventory levels are staring to look good across the board. Production cuts and incentives have brought supply and demand into a better balance. Many beleaguered automotive divisions showed double-digit drops in inventory levels from January. Saturn went into “Like Never Before” mode, quickly moving from a deeply worrying 153-day supply of product to a merely troubling 93 day inventory. OK, yes, it’s still a far cry from the 60 day ideal, but Saturn dealers must be happy with the big drop in carrying costs.
Formerly minimalist U.S. Porsche dealer lots are beginning to look a bit lebensraum challenged. The Sultans of Stuttgart’s inventory levels have jumped from an unassailably delicious 42-day supply to a “come on down” 70-day level. Blame fading sales of Porsche’s pricey Cayenne SUV. Even though the new, refreshed model is here to save the day (after skipping a model year), the SUV slump in general and Cayenne doldrums in specific raise the question automotive marketeers dread to hear: “Has everyone who wants one got one?”
America’s most available model (how great does that sound) is the Mazda B-series truck. Can someone please turn off the tap? Mazda dealers now have enough petite pickups to last 228 days. Ford’s Zoom without a Vue subsidiary would happily swap with Honda. The econobox-of-the-moment Fit and increasingly creased CR-Vs are smokin’ hot, with 19- and 20-day supplies respectively.
On the vital sales per dealer (SPD) numbers, nearly everyone’s up from January. Even tumbleweed infested Buick dealers showed a slight increase, adding two sales per dealer (to a not-so-grand-national total of six). Saturn scored the highest increase, adding 19 SPD in January (from 31 to 50). At Porsche– normally a sales tiger as the weather improves– SPD dropped by five. In raw numbers, once again, Toyota reigns supreme. The automaker hit 136 SPD in February, up 10 sales from the month previous. Lexus dealers ranked second, with a whopping 105 sales per dealer.
The automakers are hoping for some March madness. But with gas prices on the rise, the housing market on the slow and sub-primes all lent out with nowhere to go, the madness could get seriously crazy. Watch this space.