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.
One of the biggest conundrums facing the folks tasked with marketing the forthcoming first generation of mainstream electric cars is branding. On the one hand, firms want their mainstream brands associated with the green halo of having an electric car in its portfolio. On the other hand, electric cars aren’t cheap. From a pure pricing perspective, it makes more sense to brand expensive EVs as luxury products. GM struggled with this problem when it developed its Converj version of the Volt, ultimately deciding that the common-sense arguments for branding the $40k Volt as a Cadillac weren’t as important as boosting Chevy’s profile with an EV offering. Nissan, meanwhile, has decided that it has room for both a Nissan-branded Leaf EV and an Infiniti-branded luxury version.
Chrysler once again topped Edmunds’ True Cost Of Incentive index last month, despite failing to significantly improve its sales over February 2009′s miserable showing. The only upside is that Chrysler basically held even with reduced incentives, as the entire industry is spending about 14 percent less on incentives than it did a year ago. Another interesting point of analysis from Edmunds:
Comparing all brands, in February smart spent the least, $341 followed by Scion at $426 per vehicle sold. At the other end of the spectrum, Lincoln spent the most, $5,568, followed by HUMMER at $5,195 per vehicle sold. Relative to their vehicle prices, Saturn and HUMMER spent the most, 14.9 percent and 13.6 percent of sticker price, respectively; while Porsche spent 1.4 and smart spent 2.3 percent.
But Toyota and GM will help carry those numbers up next month, with huge incentive spends planned. Meanwhile, after many automakers found religion about retail sales last year, fleet sales are back in a big way. And they’re no longer seen as something to be ashamed of.
Ford’s fleet business has traditionally been in trucks and full-sized vans, a fact that explains why you’ve never seen an E-Series van in anything other than fleet white. But with residuals on the Ford Fusion staying higher than, well, the Sebring and Malibu, Ford’s recently-refreshed midsized sedan is becoming an attractive fleet option as analysts project a pickup in corporate fleet buying this year. Ford’s Jim Farley tells Automotive News [sub]:
We’re seeing a whole new group of clients come to us saying we want to buy Fusions. We’ve never had that before, at least in the recent past, and that has really grown our commercial fleet business.
Never had this before? Really? What about Crown Vic/Towncar? What about the third- and fourth-gen Taurus? What about the V6 Mustang Convertible that every rental storefront has at least one of? Besides, what happened to reducing profit-sucking fleet dependence? Oh well, something had to replace the Pontiac G6. And if anything kills a model’s resale, it’s heavy fleet sales… if that’s what is drawing the corporate interest, it won’t last long.
We didn’t want a big fleet of electric vehicles. We’re only just over two years or so away from the games and time is running out to create a viable network. Many of the vehicles will be used for around 18 hours a day. It’s hard graft, and we knew BMW could supply the vehicles to meet these demands.”
Paul Deighton, CEO of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) explains to Autocar why the games won’t be relying on electric vehicles in 2012. Nissan had presented a bid to be the games’ official vehicle supplier which proposed using Leaf EVs for over half the planned fleet. A “small proportion” of BMW’s winning fleet proposal will be electric MINI Es, and all proposals were required to achieve a fleet average of 120g/km of CO2. But that hasn’t stopped Nissan from getting petulant.