By the Numbers: Sales March… Off a Cliff

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams
by the numbers sales march off a cliff

March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb. As far as auto sales were concerned, the month came in like a dead fish and left like… a pile of dead fish. While the raw sales numbers rose from February's levels, total sales were down by 12 percent compared to March of last year. Year to date (YTD), total sales were off by eight percent. Reflecting higher gas prices, light truck sales dropped by 17.8 percent; car sales "only" sank 5.9 percent. Here's how our individual bellwether models fared…

Pickup Trucks

Between the downturn in construction and the upturn in gas prices, truck sales were dismal. Chevrolet Silverado sales fell 23.5 percent month, down 19.6 percent year-to-date. Ford's F-Series fared worse, ending the month down 23.8 percent; annual sales were down 13.7 percent. The Dodge Ram made the worst showing, losing 31.3 percent on the month and 24.6 percent on the year. The Toyoya Tundra actually showed an increase: up 8.4 percent for the month and 39.7 percent for the year. As noted last month, the current model was new on the market last year; sales were just ramping-up.

Passenger Cars

For the most part, as expected, passenger cars fared better than trucks. The Chevrolet Malibu, was down a bit: 0.4 percent in March. But GM's last Next Big Thing's overall sales are up 16.7 percent over last year's. The Ford Fusion was one of the few models to show an increase for both the month (0.6 percent) and year (0.9 percent). Chrysler's 300 delivered the same [horrendous] performance as the Ram, cratering 29.7 percent for the month and 17.9 percent on the year. While the Toyota Camry is still ahead of last year by 1.1 percent, it finished March down 4.2 percent. Honda's jumbo-sized Accord was only 0.8 percent below last March but still down 5.2 percent year to date.

Truck-based SUVs

SUV's suffered the same fate as pickups. GM ante-penultimate Next Big Thing, the Chevrolet Tahoe, continues to lose ground, dropping 34.2 percent from last March and 26.3 for the year. The Ford Explorer gained a bit from February, but still lost 14.8 percent for the month and 20.4 percent year-to-date. The Dodge Durango continues its death spiral; 38.3 percent below March 2007 and 36.5 percent for the year so far. Surprisingly, The Totoya Sequoia's monthly sales went up 11.2 percent month. Annual sales are up 13.1 percent. However, just like last month, the raw numbers are low. So a difference of just 300 sales constitutes a high jump in the percentages.


CUV sales were a mixed bag in March. The GMC Acadia was still well above last year's sales stats, showing a 29.4 percent gain in March;76.6 percent ahead year to date. The Ford Edge continues its sales growth, ending the month 23.8 percent ahead of last year and up 47.2 percent for the total year. The Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot didn't fare as well, finishing March down 7.4 percent and 29.1 percent respectively. For the year, the Highlander is up 7.3 percent while Pilot is down 7.8 percent.


With gas prices at all time highs and still climbing, Toyota's having no problems selling every Prius they can build. In March, sales of the Japanese gas – electric hybrid rose 7.7 percent month above last year. Year-to-date, they're up 8.1 percent. In March, sales of the Civic Hybrid were up 34 percent. Lexus' RX400h sales climbed by 6.7 percent. Camry Hybrid sales rose 34.7 percent ( reports that hybrid version of the Camry outsold the V-6 model in March).

Total Sales

The only word to describe the overall sales picture: "disaster." Whether we're talking about March or year to date, all five manufacturers were below last year's performance. GM dropped 18.7 percent compared to last March, down 10.9 percent year-to-date. Ford sales were down 14.1 percent for the month; so far they're trailing last year by 9 percent. Chrysler was a genuine disaster zone, finishing 19.4 percent below last March, down a total of 15.5 percent year for the year. Toyota's performance was surprisingly off, with a 10.3 percent drop from March 2007, down 5.6 percent on the year so far. Honda— the automaker with the lowest number of pickups and SUVs– was down 3.2 percent for March, minus 0.45 percent year-to-year.

The Future

The immediate future holds little prospect of any relief in gas prices or improvement in the economy.Truck and SUV sales– on which The Big 2.8 business still depends– will continue to fall. Small cars and smaller CUVs will continue increasing their market share. But don't expect any sales miracles. It's shaping up to be a long dry summer, sales-wise.

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  • Jthorner Jthorner on Apr 09, 2008

    "The real reason why the pickup market went south is the collapse of the housing market. For all the pickups that are sold to folks who use them as a passenger vehicles, the fact is that lots of trucks are sold to tradesmen and other small businesses. As long as there are 4X8 sheets of plywood and sheets of drywall to move around there will be full size BOF pickups." For many decades the full sized truck market was around 20-25% of the North American light vehicle market and they were sold primarily to just such people. Then in the 1990s big trucks became a fashion craze and they shot up to 40%+ of the market. Now that trend is stuck in reverse and I suspect the number will end up on the low side of the old historic trends lines. Those fashion buyers are also dumping very nice lightly used vehicles back onto the market. Said vehicles make a very smart buy for the contractor, farmer, etc. who really needs a truck. In our area I see a lot of Dodge Sprinters set up as work vehicles. They can handle those 4x8 sheets just fine. As fuel prices remain high we can expect to see more innovation, or just importation, in the work truck and van categories. Ford's Transit previously mentioned is a good example of this. I also, like others, expect to see things like the VW Rabbit Pickup come back. H The US BOF truck market is never again going to enjoy the sales it did just a few years ago. As a final note, the Work Truck configurations of F150s, et. al. are not where the big profits are made. The profits come from the heavily optioned Eddie Bauer edition types. These add ~$1,000 in manufacturing cost and raise the selling price 5-10x that much.

  • Ttilley Ttilley on Apr 09, 2008

    geeber: That Mr. Lutz can’t tell the difference between the truly rich and the HELOC and credit-card rich is scary. Does he care? With a long-term focus he absolutely should, so knowing that difference should be what Ford might call "Job One". With a short-term focus, perhaps he's more like Mitsubishi. There seems to be a similar question arising where someone discusses "SUV" sales (like the Tahoe), and someone else talks about "Truck/SUV" sales and the needs of contractors, who currently have fewer needs. But the Tahoe is not a pickup, it is in many but not all cases an ersatz station wagon. For those with other uses for a Tahoe, fine. But, Tahoe's more commonly haul around lighted hitch covers than pieces of plywood. If Lutz behaves, and speaks, like someone with a short-term focus, then we should just all assume that anything that comes from his mouth is only meant to goose the current quarter, and pay those statements the attention they deserve (e.g.: TTAC might gather them together for a "Maximum Bob's Greatest Hits" page).

  • Tassos ask me if I care.
  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
  • MaintenanceCosts These are everywhere around here. I'm not sure the extra power over a CR-V hybrid is worth the fragile interior materials and the Kia dealership experience.
  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.
  • ToolGuy Gut feel: It won't sell all that well as a new vehicle, but will be wildly popular in the used market 12.5 years from now.(See FJ Cruiser)