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Among a relatively mundane sales month across the board, there were still a few big winners riding high above the pack.
With May sales numbers rolling out today, there are some interesting stories developing around several automakers.
February treated the auto industry well this year, at least for the most part. The majority of automakers saw sales increases over the same month last year.
Chrysler was the big winner, reporting a 40 percent sales increase over February of last year. Even GM posted a tiny 1.1 percent gain over last year despite suffering from poor Cadillac and Buick sales. In fact, industry sales grew 16 percent overall compared to last year.
Cars made in North America grew the most, by 17 percent, while European manufactured vehicles saw the smallest increase — only 2 percent.
Last month’s sales numbers were nothing short of striking, but one of the most interesting developments came from the muscle car battle Chevrolet and Ford are waging against one another. The Mustang finally beat the Camaro in sales with 7,351 units to Chevrolet’s 6,923.
The next question is how long those numbers will last, given that the new 580-horsepower ZL1 Camaro is being released and is said to be the best bow tie-bearing pony car yet.
Among the other companies with impressive growth, Mercedes-Benz sub-brand Smart saw a 59 percent increase. British luxury brand Jaguar enjoyed a 48 percent boost, and while Volkswagen and MINI enjoyed 43 and 42 percent increases respectively. Even econo-box manufacturer Kia saw a 37 percent sales jump over last year.
For the first time in at least 14 years, China’s auto sales growth trailed America’s after China’s government ended stimulus measures and their economic expansion started plateauing.
Total vehicle sales in China rose 2.5-percent to 18.5-million, compared with the 3-percent median estimate from five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Even though the country remains the world’s biggest vehicle market for the third straight year, its delivery growth slowed from the 32-percent in 2010.
China’s auto sales growth won’t reach anywhere near the past couple of years as it scales back to a more sustainable pace,” said Jenny Gu, an analyst at industry researcher LMC Automotive in Shanghai. “The past few years were boosted by government incentives.”
Passenger-car deliveries rose 5.2-percent, a drastic decrease from the 33-percent growth seen in 2010. Sales growth in China had outpaced the US every year prior to 2011 according to data stretching back to 1998. US light-vehicle sales climbed 10-percent in 2011.
It’s estimated that growth in passenger-vehicle demand in China will accelerate this year to about 9.5-percent with vehicle exports projected to rise 25- to 30-percent to as much as 1.1-million units.
Given what many see as slow economic recovering, unstable fuel prices and supply problems from Japan, it probably isn’t surprising that May’s auto sales were rather soft.
That said, figures, expected to be released tomorrow will likely reveal a 12.1 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, based on an average from 11 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. This follows on the heels from 12.6 million total vehicle sales in January, based on research from Autodata Corp.
However, predictions are that as the economy potentially goes stronger, and Japanese suppliers get back on track, total vehicle demand for this year is expected to be the highest since 2008, when some, 13.2 million cars and light trucks were sold.
Although Japanese automakers are working through their supply issues, price increases and reduced sales incentives by some automakers, notably Ford still have the potential to eat into sales and profit margins.
Nevertheless, the overall outlook remains optimistic. Among the automakers; Toyota says it expects production to return to around 70 percent of normal levels by June, while Honda says it will resume full capacity by August. Meanwhile, Chrysler, having managed to pay off some $7.6 billion in government loans during the month of May, says sales increased around 9.5 percent during the same period.
The biggest worry among many is GM, which is struggling to move it’s now aging full-size pickups and SUVs; nevertheless, in trading, GM shares were up slightly on the New York Stock Exchange this morning, settling at $31.28 per share.
Although the U.S. economy is slowly spluttering back to life, some industries seem to be doing better than others. In the auto sector, sales are up, particularly for Domestic manufacturers and on the truck side too.
For the month of November, Bloomberg predicts overall car and light truck sales for the year at approximately 12.2 million units, nearly rivaling August 2009 when the U.S. Government’s controversial ‘Cash for Clunkers,’ program helped push sales to almost record levels.
Out of the November totals, both Ford and Chrysler have increased their overall sales percentage by around 20 percent, while General Motors has seen an approximately 13 percent increase. And a lot of that has to do with light truck demand. According to Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with Edmumds.com; truck sales rise “as it gets colder, plus we’ve seen higher demand as gas prices have been stable for some time.”
And among the overall increase in truck demand, individual vehicles have scored particularly significant gains. Sales of Ford’s F-Series pickups have climbed by 30 percent through October, while sales of Chrysler’s Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV (recently revamped for 2011) rose by 41 percent in the same period. GM’s Chevy Equinox has also seen robust demand for some time.
The increase demand also corresponds with what seems to be a more optimistic outlook from the automakers. For example, Jesse Toprak V-P of industry trends at TrueCar.com, says GM’s increases are likely in part a result of the company’s historic IPO. “If you see the company performing, the stock price holding up, and perhaps GM posting another profit in the fourth quarter, that adds to brownie points with consumers,” Toprak said.
Chrysler, despite delivering a third quarter operating loss this year ($84 million), has raised it’s full-year operating profit forecast to about $700 million. “The mood of customers is exceptional. I have a very positive attitude toward our products. It’s a strong month for November,” said David Kelleher, a Chrysler dealer in Glen Mills, PA.