By The Numbers January '08: A Not-So-Happy New Year
Even before 2008 arrived, industry experts were predicting a bad, bad thing. So far, they haven't been disappointed. While January tends to be a low sales month, as everyone tries to recover from holiday overindulgence, this January was worse than expected. There were a few inexplicable bright spots (*cough* channel stuffing *cough* dealer fleet sales *cough*). Sales of the Dodge Caliber (up 25.5 percent over last January), Ford Focus (up 44.4 percent), Buick LaCrosse (up 69.3 percent) and Chevy Cobalt (up 32.9 percent) all shot up. But these four-wheeled anomalies weren't enough to salvage the month. Let's break it down…
You'll notice we've made a few changes in the models we're tracking. Last year, we didn't include Honda because they didn't offer models in all our categories. This year we said "what the Hell" and added the Accord and Pilot to the passenger car and CUV categories. With a new crop of CUVs available, we dropped the hoary Chevrolet Equinox and DNR Chrysler Pacifica and added the ascendant GMC Acadia. We'd like to track GM's hybrid sales but, for some reason, they don't break them out of the totals. So the Toyota Prius will be our hybrid bellwether.
As gas prices keep going up, pickup sales keep going down. The Chevrolet Silverado was down 5.9 percent from last January. The lame duck Ford F-Series continued its downward trend, ending the month 8.4 percent lower than the same month in 07. The lame lamb Dodge Ram plummeted 18.4%. The Toyota Tundra showed a 91 percent increase, but that's because the previous model was winding down in January last year.
Instead of the Chevrolet Impala, this year we'll be tracking the new Malibu. Initial sales numbers are strong; sales are 57.9 percent above last January. Chrysler's 300 continues on slippin', slippin'; shedding 9.7 percent from last year's total. Ford Fusion sales were uncharacteristically low, dropping 12.8 percent. Camry held steady, showing a 0.4 percent increase. The Honda Accord's redesign hasn't helped it much so far; sales are down 6.8 percent from the same month last year.
The mass exodus from massive SUVs continues. Chevrolet Tahoe sales dropped 12.1% from last January. The Ford Explorer ended the month 18.7 percent lower. The Dodge Durango took it on the chin, tumbling a jaw-dropping 32.8 percent. Instead of tracking 4Runner this year, we'll see if Toyota's redesign has any effect on Sequoia's numbers. For now it seems to be working. The Sequoia finished the month 15.5 percent ahead of last January.
The current CUV poster child, the GMC Acadia, is up 335 percent from last January. That's not quite as startling as it seems. The model was introduced in January '07; production had just begun. The Ford Edge has edged the Ford Escape out of our charts. The Edge is up 94.9 percent for the same reason as Acadia. Toyota recently redesigned the Highlander, so we'll follow it instead of RAV-4. As the newish Highlander was up 19.4 percent from last January, the redesign was a good thing. Will it have legs? Honda's Pilot may not. It makes a less-than-spectacular debut on our charts, finishing the month 10.7 percent below last year's sales totals.
Is the hybrid boom going to go bust? If you assume that the Prius IS the hybrid boom– a fair assumption considering that the gas-electric sedan has no real sales competition– we're still booming. The Prius gained a whopping 37.1 percent over last January's totals. Whether sales will continue to grow remains to be seen, but this is one of the few models that's helped by rising gas prices.
Anyone who looked at the business page or any automotive publication knows GM finished in the black in what was an otherwise dismal month. GM's sales were up 2.6 percent over last January's, but it must be remembered that last January was horrific for The General. Ford was down 3.9 percent and Toyota and Honda were both down 2.3 percent. Chrysler really took another head shot, starting the year 12.1 percent below last year.
GM and Ford analysts have pretty much written off financial quarters one through three. And for good reasons: a moribund housing market killing consumer confidence, the possibility of widespread car loan defaults, rising subprime interest rates tightening consumer credit, bankrupt suppliers, rising production costs, rising gas prices and changing markets. Now more than ever, survival of the fittest are the industry watchwords. And watch we will.
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