Ever since emerging from bankruptcy, the Chevrolet Cruze has been something of a symbol of GM’s rebound. Widely hailed by the automotive media as General Motors’ strongest effort to date in a compact segment that has become increasingly important in recent years, the Cruze seemed to show that the “new” GM was capable of selling smaller cars on their merits, rather than as afterthoughts to more profitable truck, SUV and large car offerings. And indeed, through the first half of this year, it seemed that the Cruze was something of a roaring success, regularly outselling its segment competitors. But then, in June, when production shifted from 2011 models to 2012 models, something changed: sales started to slow, and inventories started to rise. As Cruzes began piling up on dealer lots, GM trimmed production moderately, but still, inventories began to grow out of control. Clearly something was going wrong.
UPDATED: “Big Six” compact sedan monthly sales graph (Jan-Nov, 2011) added to gallery after the jump.
I’ve suggested in these pages that the several documented fires involving Chevrolet Volts suggest some kind of pattern, as no other major-manufacturer EVs have been involved in any reported fires. But, as Ronnie Schreiber at Cars In Depth points out, even that pattern seems to pale in comparison to the National Fire Protection Association’s tally of highway vehicle fires in the US each year. Though the number of highway vehicle fires has decreased significantly since 1980, 2009 still saw 190,500 fires. And between 2003 and 2007,
On average, 31 highway vehicle fires were reported per hour. These fires killed one person a day.
With today’s chart showing the abject failure of Lexus’s HS250h, we thought we’d dig deeper into Lexus’s 2011 performance by breaking out the brand’s core model sales over the year. And, to be perfectly honest, they don’t look as bad as you might expect. Though the tsunami-related supply shortages cut a huge hole out of Lexus’s sales this year, the overall momentum model-by-model doesn’t seem as bad as I might have thought, given that Lexus is the most-stumbling brand of the year, sales-wise. And, to give a little more context to this focused at Lexus’s portfolio, we’ve included a chart of year-over-year performances through October of all the luxury/premium brands.
Sales analysis for calender-year 2011 hasn’t been easy, as supply disruptions in Asia have caused sales dips that may not be related to actual market demand. So, it’s not entirely surprising that Subaru’s sales numbers seem to be drooping this year, after two years of spectacular sales growth. Indeed, the brand’s sales releases make much of its inventory woes, although Subaru USA’s Thomas Doll still insists that
Based on the continuing strong demand for our products, increased supply through December and the launch of the all-new Impreza we expect to finish 2011 with the fourth consecutive year of sales growth for Subaru.
And he may be right (note: our estimate of declining 2011 volume above is non-seasonally-adjusted). In fact, through October, Subaru was less than 1% off its pace for the previous year’s sales through October. On the other hand, if you look at Subaru’s sales over the last 18 months, you’ll find that not all of its sales slippage can be blamed on the tsunami….
With October’s compact segment numbers reflecting Midsized segment’s return to the Toyota-Honda duopoly, the year-to-date graph shows that 2011 saw the rise of a new contender in the compact class: Chevy’s Cruze. With “virtually zero” 2012 Civics at Honda’s dealers (allegedly) due to Earthquake aftermath and Thai flooding, it’s beginning to look like Civic could be kicked out of the new triumvirate, leaving Cruze and Corolla to fight it out to the finish. To celebrate the drama, we’ve included a special bonus graph showing the “Big Six” compact horserace from January through October, to go along with the YTD graph. Enjoy!
The import empire struck back last month, as Honda and Hyundai jumped in segment sales and Chevy’s Malibu got battered down towards the bottom of our monthly chart. Four of the top five midsized sellers in October were import nameplates, although the two biggest year-over-year growers were Chrysler’s 200 and Kia’s Optima. Meanwhile, VW’s Chattanooga-built Passat is still rolling out, but still managed to post 5,000 units in its first month. Year-to-date rankings remain unchanged from last month, although Accord could easily squeeze past Fusion to snag third place by year’s end.
The auto sales game has only one rule: sell more cars this year than you did last year. By that measure, these seven brands are “losing” 2011 as we head into the final two months of the year. Of course 2011′s king of bellyflopping brands was Mercury, which went from 78,656 units in the first 10 months of 2010 to 248 in the same period this year. But because it was mercifully euthanized by Ford (not to mention the fact that its 99.7% decline ruined the rest of the graph), Ford’s erstwhile “entry luxury” brand has been left off.
And what we’re left with is a sight to behold… the once-dominant Honda and Toyota (and even their luxury brands) laid low by floods, tsunamis, congressional hearings and a few poorly-received products. Even Subaru, a brand that grew 15 and 16 percent in 2009 and 2010 respectively seems in danger of not growing its volume this year… for less easily-explained (or is that superficially-explained?) reasons. Meanwhile, if Jaguar is falling behind with its freshest lineup in… well, you get the point. With the market up 10% compared to where it was in the first ten months of 2010, nobody wants to be losing volume right now…
Though the Compact CUV segment continues to add volume, its starting to become one of the older segments, as models like Escape, Rogue, CR-V and RAV4 approach the ends of their life cycles. And yet only one of those competitors, the Toyota RAV4, has fallen off sharply. The Equinox seems to have permanently passed the Toyota model in the YTD race, and the Rogue could end up passing it as well before the year is over. Meanwhile, as we start looking ahead to the new look of this segment, there will be some divergence between the top two models that bears keeping an eye on. The Escape, long a cheap-n-rugged entry in this segment will be replaced with a more premium, European-style global crossover (see the Vertrek concept), while Honda is taking a more conservative approach, adding room but keeping the vehicle’s basic image intact. It should be interesting how those changes affect the top of this segment going forward…
Well, it sure looked like the Kia Soul was poised to take out the Nissan Versa as the king of the small cars, especially in light of Michael Karesh’s lukewarm review. But the new Versa has roared back into contention last month, outselling the two next-closest nameplates combined. The Soul is hanging onto its lead in the YTD numbers, but that won’t last if the Versa keeps up this pace. On the other hand, an updated, more efficient Soul is hitting the market soon, and Kia’s new Rio should help take the fight back to Nissan. Meanwhile, The Fiat 500 still has yet to outsell the MINI, Sonic and Veloster are just entering the market, and Hyundai’s brand-new (and reportedly supply-limited) Accent can’t move past Honda’s aging Fit. But really, there’s only one story here… how about that Nissan Versa?
Thought the Midsized segment was heating up in September? A mere 633 units separate the Cruze and Corolla in their battle to become the best-selling Compact in America for 2011. And the way Elantra and Jetta are moving up the chart, this segment could could get a lot more interesting by the end of the year. In fact, the Focus’s weak performance this month makes it vulnerable to the Jetta in the Year-to-Date sweepstakes, despite appearing to be a strong entry in the segment. Back in July it was reported that Focus production was being slowed due to problems with a supplier of dashboard skins. At the time, a Ford dealer told the Associated Press
I know they’re working 24/7 trying to address whatever component issues they have. It’s a high-visibility issue with Ford Motor Co., and senior management is very concerned and very involved.
So, is there still a supply problem, or is the Focus just not selling? A quick look at inventory data shows that Focus started September with a 33 days supply and ended with a 74-day supply, which implies that any supply problems were solved last month. Going forward, the Focus should find its sales stride… or it will become another scalp on the Jetta’s belt.
We had midsized madness last month, as the Altima came within 500 units of unseating the mighty Camry and Sonata came within 500 units of sending the Accord tumbling further down the chart. Of the top ten best-sellers in the D-segment, only half beat their year-ago numbers, including Altima, Fusion, Impala, 200 and Optima. And though the YTD chart, which you can find in the gallery below, reflects the monthly sales order quite faithfully, it’s getting tighter… especially among the major players. Between the Malibu (171,266) and the Camry (229,521) there are six models in a 58,255-unit pack, and in September the Sonata pulled ahead of Malibu to snag fifth place. As we enter the fourth quarter, the competition is heating up…
Is the Chevy Volt a flop? It’s a question that plenty of folks both inside the industry and beyond seem awfully curious about, and one that I’ve tried to stay away from until we had some strong data to go on. And with nine months of 2011 under our belt, we’re starting to get a sense of where the Volt is going… and it’s not been all reassuring news. Jalopnik notes that such unloved GM models as the Buick Lucerne and Chevy Avalanche outsold the Volt last month, but failed to look at the important stuff: production as compared to deliveries, and inventory. Jalopnik does quote a Cars.com inventory figure of 2,600 Volts on dealer lots, although the latest data we have from Automotive News [sub] shows 1,400 units in the national inventory as of September 1… which at that point constituted a 121-day supply. Add in the 1,644-unit differential between Volts built and Volts sold in September, and the estimated Volt inventory across the nation should be closer to 3,000 units. We will be sure to update when AN gets new inventory numbers, but for now, the signs aren’t promising.
Approval rating, based on the question “Do you think each of the following generally do a good or bad job of serving their consumers?”
Auto industry rejoice: you are no longer as despised as the banking industry! Harris Polls didn’t release data for the years 1999 and 2010 exaggerating some of the swings you see in this graph, but it’s safe to say the auto industry has clawed its way out of a post-bailout PR hangover. Sure, Big Auto is still trailing such glamorous industries as Online Retail and Packaged Food, and only barely beat Electric and Gas Utilities for the hearts of consumers… but after nearly falling into negative approval numbers in 2009, this is still a big comeback. And compared to the industry that Big Auto is most closely tied to, namely Big Oil, even 2009 was a “what PR problem?” kind of a year. Which is more than a little strange when you think about it…
In a blog item bemoaning the likely imminent death of the Honda Ridgeline, Automotive News [sub] Product Editor Rick Kranz accuses Honda of “abandoning” its funky pickup by failing to update its styling or hardware since it was introduced in 2005. His point seems to be that the Ridgeline was a decent enough niche product that withered on the vine… and the sales numbers certainly seem to support that thesis. But if you compare Ridgeline to other Japanese-brand compact-midsized pickups, you find that Toyota and Nissan saw similar drops in volume over a similar time period… as did practically all non-full-size pickups. So could Honda have done more for the Ridgeline, or was its decline inevitable? While you’re pondering that mystery, consider this: Kranz points to the last sentence of a months-old piece for one of those zombie rumors that never really got any play:
Based on conversations with industry sources, the story said a smaller pickup is under consideration, derived from the CR-V platform.
Presuming less payload and towing capacity than the Ridgeline, I can’t imagine why a smaller pickup based on a front-drive platform would be a more successful product formula for Honda.
On the other hand, a CR-V-based pickup is something that hasn’t been tried for decades in this market… and it wouldn’t compete nearly as directly with the cheap full-sizers that are killing the “compact” (actually midsized) pickups. So, is Kranz’s logic sound, or could a CR-V-based pickup mix up the market? Faith springs eternal for me when it comes to efficient utility vehicles… but what say you?
NB: Chrysler 200 sold 3787 in August 2010, and Kia Optima sold 1714.
Well, it’s that time again TTAC fans: the Midsized wars roll on with Camry retaking the top spot to extend its advantage in YTD sales. Altima continued its consistent year with a second place showing, and improving over its August 2010 number better than any nameplate besides… the Chrysler 200? Yes, Chrysler’s updated Sebring stopgap outsold the freshly-chic Optima on the month, and passed it in YTD sales. Meanwhile, the Hyundai Sonata may still have been 10k off the Camry’s pace, but its August volume was a mere 37 units from tying Mazda6′s YTD volume (through August). All in all though, this wasn’t an incredible month for midsizers, as half of the best-selling nameplates failed to improve on their year-over-year numbers. But what this segment lacks in volume growth it makes up for in drama, as a falling Accord runs the very real risk of being passed by Malibu and Sonata. Camry may be back in control, but the fight for the rest of the podium is as tight as ever.