“I feel like the tailgunner on the Enola Gay,” was the reaction of one Robert Farago to GM’s just-released September sales data. Mr Farago’s quip does perfect justice to the breathtaking horror of GM’s 45 percent decline from last September, itself a dramatically weak sales month. Any remaining hope for GM’s market share clearly died with Cash For Clunkers, as no segment or brand was left untouched by the carnage. And what did a certain Mark LaNeve have to say about the flesh-melting awfulness on the ground in the RenCen? “September was a tough transitional month for the industry, and a difficult year-over-year comparison for GM. Fortunately, the fourth quarter looks brighter and our year-over-year comparisons should look more favorable.” Clearly LaNeve has confused a mushroom cloud for the light at the end of a long, long tunnel.
Buick was down 33 percent, Chevy dropped 40 percent, GMC fell 53 percent and Cadillac declined 8.8 percent. In short, GM’s September results have me reaching for the thesaurus entry for “decline” before even getting to the (official) dead brands walking. It seems like it’s only a matter of time though, before Pontiac (-52.5 percent), Saab (-73 percent), Hummer (-81.5 percent) and Saturn (-83.8 percent) show up as points of comparison for how much better GM’s “core” brands are doing. Oh wait… “As expected, the market returned to pre-Cash for Clunkers levels in September, but we believe that our four core brands – Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac – are well positioned with new products,” says LaNeve. Let’s take a look at those brands then.
Buick’s brand-savior LaCrosse is down 11 percent compared to last September’s performance by the outgoing model. Buick’s new lingering houseguest, Lucerne, was off 30 percent. Enclave fell 46.9 percent.
Cadillac’s CTS was down 20 percent, DTS dropped 32.5 percent while STS fell 49.3 percent. The new SRX singlehandedly made Cadillac the best-performing brand, up 238 percent from last September’s 848-unit performance, with 2,866 units sold (nearly a quarter of Caddy’s total volume). The Escalade variants were down between 18 and 32 percent.
GMC must have torn a gigantic hole through GM’s balance book, as sales of the profit-puffing trucks and utes dropped by more than half. Acadia fell 52.7 percent, Sierra fell 61 percent, and Terrain got off to a weak start with only 1,334 units. Yukon and Yukon XL fell 11.4 percent and 7.8 percent respectively. No other GMC product broke into four-digit sales.
On the Chevy front, Camaro was the third-best selling car nameplate, passing Cobalt with 7,961 units. Aveo fell 52.4 percent, Cobalt was down 55.3 percent, Impala sank 52 percent and the much-vaunted Malibu declined by 46.9 percent. The new Equinox increased sales over last September’s old-model showing by 93 percent, and the new Traverse almost exactly matched the Equi’s volume at 6,863 units. Suburban saw a modest 23 percent increase, and Tahoe declined by a mere one percent. Silverado and Chevy Full Size pickups both fell by just over 61 percent. HHR was off 38.2 percent and the Express fell 57 percent.
Keep in mind that these numbers are unadjusted for selling days. Using adjusted numbers, these declines are between two and three percent worse. And we can’t even bring ourselves to look at the breakdowns for GM’s non-core brands. Looking out over this epic landscape of destruction, it’s extremely difficult to see where GM’s executives find their optimism. On the other hand, Mark LaNeve and Fritz Henderson can only survive at GM if these results turn around fast. Another month like this and another, more thorough executive house cleaning has to be on the agenda.