Ask an industry-watcher to name an automaker that seems to be doing things right, and chances are one of the top choices would be Ford Motor Company. And though Ford is enjoying favorable perceptions in the media, according to the company’s own internal goals, it’s actually underperforming. And in a key metric, no less: retail market share. Bloomerg reports: (Read More…)
Remember the Saturn Vue? The Theta-based crossover is known around the world as the Chevrolet Captiva (or Daewoo WinStorm… yes, really), and soon it will be known in the US as GM’s latest fleet queen. With some 86% of GM’s fleet sales last year coming from Chevy (about a 35% mix for the brand), GM is apparently trying to insulate its newer products from the fleet queen image, and as a result it’s decided to import the Captiva Sport from Mexico in order
to help satisfy growing demand for compact crossovers by fleet customers.
Keep in mind, this is not the latest Captiva to come out of GM-DAT, but rather the outgoing model that has been in production since 2006. But, according to GM’s release, this isn’t a weakness. Alan Batey, U.S. vice president, Chevrolet Sales and Service explains
It says a lot about our ability to draw on international programs and proven, quality crossovers that we were able to identify and federalize a strong new entrant such as Captiva Sport for the U.S. market. We turned to our global network for a solution to quickly meet the rising demand from local fleet customers and continue to meet strong retail demand for the Equinox.
And if this attitude seems shocking, it’s time to start getting used to it: GM is rumored to be planning this same strategy when it releases its updated Chevy Malibu next year. According to long-standing whispers, the outgoing model will continue to be produced as a fleet-oriented “Classic” model. Perhaps it’s time for GM to roll out a fleet-only brand?
In his write-up on the new Town Car-replacing livery version of the Lincoln MKT, Jack Baruth takes on the practical issues at stake, writing
I’ve put plenty of miles on both the MKT and the outgoing Town Car. Make no mistake, the MKT is quieter, faster, more spacious, and possessed of a vastly superior level of interior technology. If you told me that I would need to run one up a curb at sixty miles per hour for the purpose of avoiding a wandering falafel vendor across 110th Street, however, I wouldn’t think twice before reaching for the old-style keys. Ford has their work cut out for them.
Well, livery fleet owners think Ford’s got its work cut out for it too… but not for the practical wear-and-tear reasons that Jack points out. No, the problem, according to the owner of one Chicago-area limo company [via AN [sub]] is that
What I heard from most people is that they’re dissatisfied. It’s mainly the appearance, which is a crossover vehicle. People are used to what they consider a luxury vehicle for their clients and this has got a bit of a van styling to it.
Yes, as is so often the case in the great automotive discussions of our day, aesthetics trump all. And in this case, the shallow critique might actually be fairly valid. Not only is the MKT seen by some as being “unrelentingly grotesque” (to borrow a phrase), but limos are typically the most traditional, conservative vehicles on the road. Though clearly the better vehicle, would a baleeen-grilled crossover impart the same sense of timeless gravitas as a black Town Car? Another limo fleet owner encapsulates the issue with a rhetorical question:
When you say limo, I know what that means now, but will it mean the same thing a year from now? Will I be thinking about the Lincoln or will I be thinking about all kinds of vehicles?
Well, is the MKT up to filling the Town Car’s shoes? Or will limo and livery buyers look to a more traditional replacement (hello, Chrysler 300)? Is the livery car’s conservative image about to be blown wide open, or is it more resilient than that?
Bloomberg [via AN [sub]] reports that Chrysler’s fleet sales mix was at 25% in the month of January (according to Edmunds anyway, as Chrysler doesn’t release fleet numbers), the lowest level since a Cash For Clunkers-fueled August 2009. According to the same Edmunds data, however, the industry average fleet mix is just under 20%… and Chrysler’s 2010 average was 38%. But now that Chrysler’s been under 30% fleet for three months, sales boss Fred Diaz figures meeting the industry average is just a matter of time. Specifically:
By the end of the year, we will definitely be at industry average. That’s the goal; that’s our plan.
Considering Chrysler’s fleet sales fell from 56% to the 25%-range over the course of the last year, it sounds like the last few steps of this journey will be the most difficult. Especially when you remember that Chrysler’s also trying to increase volume some 45% this year. That means some 300,000-450,000 more Americans will have to decide to buy Chrysler Group products this year than did last year if the Pentastar wants to achieve both its volume and fleet goals. That’s going to take some serious selling…
In the wild, panthers are endangered. In the automotive world, Panthers will go extinct sometime in the third quarter of 2011, when the last Lincoln Town Car Executive L rolls off the line. If you think Panthers get a lot of lovin’ around these here parts, you should attend a convention of folks for whom those LTCELs are tools of the trade. Chances are that if you’ve used a limousine or livery service in the past 20 years, you’ve sat in the back seat of a Lincoln Town Car Executive L. That’s why it was big news at Limousine Charter & Tour magazine’s LCT Leadership Summit a couple of months ago when Ford’s fleet marketing manager, Gerry Koss, announced that replacing the soon to be dearly departed Town Car in Ford’s livery fleet fleet will be livery and stretched limo versions of the Lincoln MKT.
By gobbling up EVs, GE certainly helps to jump-start the industry, but they also gobble up future tax credits that consumers would have gotten, unless GE opts to forego the EV tax credit. Which would be bad business.
Yup, GE’s huge EV buy will be good for GE… but it won’t be so great for the 25,000 Americans whose tax credit will slurped up in the process. After all, the credit expires after a manufacturer sells 200k qualifying vehicles, so every credit GE uses brings GM and Nissan that much closer to the day they have to ask consumers to pay full price for their pricey EVs. No wonder GM is already pushing for an extension of the credit past 200k units.
Fleet sales data can be some of the toughest numbers to find, but thanks to a post from commenter GarbageMotorsCo, we’ve got some pretty comprehensive numbers for last year’s fleet performance [courtesy: automotive-fleet.com, PDF list here]. Overall fleet levels have been higher this year, but by identifying the most popular vehicles with fleet buyers (in terms of fleet sales as a percentage of overall sales), we’ll at least have some hints about this year’s performance. To help give a more accurate picture, we’ve left out obvious commercial vehicles (mainly large vans, and the queen of all fleet queens, the Ford Crown Vic (95% fleet)), as well as discontinued models like Chevy Uplander (57%) and Pontiac G6 (44.7%). We also left out hybrid or CNG versions of nameplates. Two vehicles with limited sales last year (GMC Terrain and Kia Forte) are on the list, even though they may not be on a similar list for 2010 (the Honda Insight is not on the list, despite selling all 193 of its 2009 sales to fleets). Hit the jump for our full list.
According to Automotive News [sub], both General Motors and Hyundai-Kia have reduced their fleet sales percentages in the last year, as the two firms seek retail-level pricing for their recently-improved products. Ford and Chrysler? Not so much. As the top-selling brand in the US, Ford is simply using fleet sales to boost itself to the top of the pile. Winning the annual sales volume race is good for morale, but The Blue Oval should be careful not to delude itself into unrealistic expectations. For Chrysler, on the other hand, the continued practice of sending 40 percent of sales to fleets is big, big trouble.
Not only has Chrysler been barely making its minimum “survival volume” numbers (and some months, not), it also had a “come to Jesus” moment on the fleet issue back in April. At the time, Chrysler swore it would limit fleet sales to 25 percent of overall volume, but since that announcement, its fleet percentage has held steady at around 40 percent. For a company on the brink, the lost profits are just as important as the lost credibility. Meanwhile, each new Chrysler that ends up in a fleet cements the perception that Chryslers are the automotive purchase of last resort. And at this point, the perception probably isn’t too far from the truth.
Automotive News [sub] takes a stab at calculating the numbers that Detroit doesn’t want you to see. Best of all, AN says the numbers are based on “internal documents.” During this morning’s financial results conference call, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne railed against AN’s “crusade,” implying that the industry paper of record is nursing a vendetta against Chrysler… which is usually a good sign that a media outlet is doing its job well. It’s also a sign that Marchionne knows his firm’s fleet dependence is a problem.
To say that Chrysler’s 25 percent year-over-year sales increase last month came as a surprise would be pushing the boundaries of overstatement. Chrysler’s sales and market share have been in decline for a long time, but over the past several years, the tailspin seemed to have become terminal. So, how did the Pentastar (barely) make its 95k minimum volume level and increase sales by 25 percent over April 2009? Fleet sales, for one thing: according to The Freep, TrueCar.com estimates that a full 40 percent of Chrysler’s April sales went to fleet customers.No wonder made a big deal about publicly finding Jesus on the fleet sales issue… at the end of the month (to say nothing of the conspicuous absence of retail sales numbers in its April report and massive increase in Sebring sales). And the bad news doesn’t end there. Not only did Chrysler top all automakers in per-vehicle incentives last month according to Edmunds’ monthly True Cost Of Incentives index with $3,374 on the average Mopar’s hood, they’re actually increasing incentives even further.
For yet another month, GM’s sales [full April sales report in XLS format here, press release here] managed to be both promising and disappointing, depending on how you cut them. GM’s “core brands” were up 20 percent cumulatively, with Cadillac and Buick leading the way with 35.7 percent and 36.4 percent increases respectively (Chevy up 17.4 percent, GMC up 18.4 percent). And though GM is especially eager to boost sales numbers at its two premium brands, thanks to their low baseline sales, the solid percentage gains resulted in surprisingly small volume improvements. The General’s overall volume was up only 6.5 percent compared to April 2009, a month when the just-canceled Pontiac outsold both Buick and Caddy.
Fleet sales were up 47 percent in the first quarter of this year, driving sales at a number of automakers. Ford, in particular, is targeting fleet sales unapologetically by touting a recovery in resale values for the Blue Oval Brand. Ford’s Mark Fields tells the Freep:
We love fleets at Ford…Ford remains focused on our disciplined approach to daily rental, making sure we help keep growing residual values
At Chrysler, which suffers from some of the lowest resale values in the business thanks in part to a longtime addiction to fleet sales, the response seems a bit more… conflicted.