By the Numbers: April Showers Brought No Relief

by the numbers april showers brought no relief

Remember back in 2004, Ford unveiled its new Focus and announced "The Year of The Car?" FoMoCo's cash cow was (and still is) a pickup truck. Clock FoMoCo's passenger car offerings four years later, and you'd be forgiven for thinking the auto show hyperbole was just that. But now it's here for real: the year of the car. In April, passenger cars outsold trucks in the U.S. new vehicle market for the first time in two decades. This is a truly amazing moment in U.S. automotive history, representing the roll-back of the SUV boom. With federal fuel economy regulations in the offing, it's unlikely that even a huge drop in gas prices can reverse the tide. Let's take a closer look at this watershed month.

Passenger car sales rose 4.5 percent (April '07 vs. April '08). Truck sales fell by 17.2 percent. When the blood was cleaned off the carpet, U.S. new passenger vehicle sales ended-up 6.8 percent below last April's total. So far this year, car sales are down 1.5 percent and truck sales 13.4 percent, producing a 7.7 percent drop overall. That's the big picture; now let's look at a few specifics…

Pickup Trucks

The Chevy Silverado suffered a 24.7 drop from April of 2007; year-to-date (YTD) sales sank 20.8 percent. While F-Series still holds onto its "best selling vehicle" title, sales were off by 21 percent for the month, down 15.5 percent for the year. Even huge incentives and sweet deals couldn't pull the Dodge Ram out if its death spiral, finishing April 23.3 percent below last year; down 24.2 percent YTD. For the first time since the new model was introduced, the Toyota Tundra ended the month below last year; April sales slipped six percent. But they're still up 24.8 percent YTD.

Passenger Cars

The Chevy Malibu continues its sales climb, ending the month 39.5 percent above last April, 22.5 percent ahead of last year. Ford's Fusion also had a good month. Sales ascended by 22.4 percent for month, six percent on year. Chrysler wasn't so fortunate. The 300 dropped 36.8 percent for the month, down 22.2 percent on the year. The Toyota Camry managed to stay 5.6 percent ahead of last April, 2.3 percent ahead YTD. Honda Accord sales jumped 17.5 percent for the month. But that's up just 0.2 percent for the year.

Truck-based SUVs

It's no wonder that GM is shutting down SUV production for the year. Tahoe sales finished April down a whopping 29.4 percent, trailing 27.1 percent YTD. Ford and Chrysler may want to consider following GM's lead. Explorer sales declined 38.5 percent from last April; 25 percent YTD. Dodge Durango was even worse. Sales are now so low that a difference of only 2k sales from last April resulted in a 38.5 percent drop; year to date the Durango dies by 38.6 percent. Toyota's Sequoia continues selling above last year, with a 34.4 percent gain for April and a 17.9 percent growth for the year so far.

CUVs

For the first time this year, sales of GMC's Acadia dropped below the previous year's, ending the month down 8.8 percent. However, thanks to a very strong showing in the first quarter, Acadia sales are up 43.3 percent YTD. Ford's Edge edged ahead of last April by 13.1 percent, bettering last year's sales by a whopping 37.9 percent. The Toyota Highlander was down 1.1 percent for the month, but still managed to stay 5.3 percent ahead of the first four months of 2007. Honda's Pilot went the other way, ending 1.3 percent ahead of April 2007, down 5.4 percent for the year.

Prius

It's no wonder that Toyota is thinking about expanding Prius into an entire line of vehicles. Sales are booming. We're talking about a 66.6 percent surge in April and a 22.6 percent gain over this time last year. With gas prices continuing to climb, demand for Toyota's rolling computer doesn't seem to be likely to diminish any time soon.

Total Sales

Historically, overall vehicle sales tend to dip in April. When you start the year well below the previous year, dips tend to look more like a swan dive off the ten-meter board. GM ended April 16.2 percent below last April and starts May down 13.2 percent for the year. Ford did slightly better, dropping only 12.1 percent for the month and 9.8 percent for the year. Chrysler would gladly swap places with either of them, with sales down 23.5 percent compared to April '07 and down 17.6 percent for the year. The transplants fared a bit better than the natives. Toyota finished the month 3.4 percent ahead of last April but down 3.3 percent on the year. Honda had the best showing of all, increasing 6.8 percent in April and up 1.5 percent year to date.

The Future

Next month, we'll see if GM's production cutbacks (and strikes) have any impact on their sales. Toyota's announced price increases may throw a spanner in the works. (Or not.) And Chrysler's cut-rate gasoline promotion could ignite sales. (or not.) One thing's for sure: it may be the year of the car, but for the domestics, it's not the carmaker's year.

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  • 200k-min 200k-min on May 13, 2008

    Add me to those happy to see the popularity of the "truck" waining. Why anyone would ever want one as a commuter to an office job is beyond me, SUV's & CUV's included. As for their utility, the guys at the lumberyard are always amazed how much I can haul in an Accord with the back seat folded down...or on a roof rack.

  • Bunter1 Bunter1 on May 14, 2008

    Hi Frank, As always your charts give more clarity than all the quacking of so-called industry analysts. One request. How about a line on the manufacturer graphs that shows equivalent of last years monthly results adjusted for the months decline industry wide (example: if the industry is down 10% there is a data point 10% down from the previous year, if the 2008 data was off 5% it would fall above it, off 15% it would fall below). It would illustrate how the companies are doing in the buying publics eyes better, I think, than the raw numbers do. Will we see another update on the small car numbers? Thanks for your efforts. Bunter

  • DenverMike Anyone that would have this color would wear feathers to a minister’s funeral.
  • Art Vandelay Still looks better than modern Hyundai/KIA products
  • Dukeisduke The F&I office on steroids.
  • DenverMike Yeah there’s temporarily gains, but automakers will continue to seek additional revenue streams as the auto industry will be in decline from now on, with new players taking an increasingly piece of the pie, plus weak EV profits. Prices are considered stupid, even by the rich that easily find better ways to dump cash, even on $200K Batmobile replicas. There’s never been so many (Hot) alternatives to “new” vehicles and all the BS/greed that goes along with them, including, yes better than new!Did I mention the auto aftermarket has been growing exponentially?
  • JMII I guess at one point OnStar had value but given that everyone has a smart phone these days I can't think of anything it does that I would pay for. The car has a OLM and reading the manual gives me all the other maintenance information I need. I unplugged the unit in my C7 just so the blue and red lights would disappear from my rear view mirror... I found them very distracting. Since my C7 was used I never signed up nor paid for anything, I have no idea what the data they are collecting on me but driving to and from work plus the occasionally track day doesn't seem like a gold mine.
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