Many times, the first quarter of automotive sales signals success —- or not — for carmakers around the globe. This year could be an exception, but there are a few surprises that require watching.
This column’s Crack Research Team, working with some company sources and the Automotive News Data Center, is ready to offer the year’s first in-depth analysis.
So far, this surprise development has received zero press: For the month of March, the Toyota Division outsold General Motors’ Chevrolet Division by a small margin, 3,375 vehicles. For the full three-month quarter, Chevrolet is comfortably ahead of Toyota by 25,000 vehicles.
The Ford Motor Co.’s Ford Division continues to lead the industry in total vehicle sales, bolstered by high light-truck sales volume.
There are other unusual occurrences in the first quarter of 2012:
• Chrysler Group: Sales are up 39 percent, with its share of the total market showing an increase of 2.1 percentage points. The 2.1 percentage points does not sound significant, but it is! That increase amounts to 72,815 more vehicles sold so far this year than last year. Everything clicked for the Chrysler Group: Jeep sales rose 35 percent and the Chrysler 200 and 300 were up more than threefold.
• Ford Motor Co.: Sales for the quarter were up nine percent, although there was a 0.7 point loss in market share … The word was out: No more Ford Crown Victoria; the Ford Fiesta slipped 24 percent; and the Fusion was down two percent. All will lag until the redesigned replacements arrive.
• General Motors Co.: Sales for the first quarter were up three percent, but market share took a drop of 1.9 percentage points. The decline partly reflects last year’s incentive-fueled gains.
• Volkswagen/Audi: Sales were up 34 percent, share up 0.6 points. It’s all about having a full supply of new Chattanooga-built Passats.
• Hyundai/Kia: Sales up 22 percent; share up 0.6 points. Sales appeared up across the spectrum, buoyed by the redesigned Kia Optima and the new Hyundai Veloster.
• Honda/Acura: Sales increased four percent, with market share down 0.9 points. The Accord, to be replaced this fall, was off eight percent; the Fit fell 18 percent and the Crosstour was off 17 percent; the Insight hybrid plunged 62 percent.
These early returns on 2012’s sales must cause some concern in GM headquarters. The company’s vice-chairman, Steve Girsky, showed little alarm: “No one’s panicking. No one’s (saying); ‘Gee, we got to throw a pile of money at the market.’ That’s not the way we run the business these days.”
Here are the 10 top-selling vehicles for the first quarter:
1. Ford F Series - 143,827 2. Toyota Camry - 105,405
3. Nissan Altima - 96,360 4. Chevrolet Silverado - 95,638
5. Honda Civic - 77,169 6. Honda CR-V - 74,587
7. Toyota Corolla/Matrix - 68,428
8. (Chrysler Corp.) Ram - 67,464
9. Ford Focus - 66,043 10. Ford Fusion - 63,949
Many of our readers are interested in the sales progress of “The Electrics.” Here are the figures: Chevrolet Volt - 3,915; Nissan Leaf - 1,662.
Most auto industry followers believe there are two basic reasons for the disappointing success so far: (1) Short driving range on electric power and (2) Price. The chief executive of Ford Motor Co. shed some light on the reason for high prices. In a forum on “green” technology, Alan Mulally said the biggest cost is the battery packs. For the company’s Focus electric car, they cost between $12,000 and $15,000 apiece.
“When you move into an all-electric vehicle, the battery size moves up to around 23 Kilowatt hours, and it weighs around 600 to 700 pounds,” he said. “They’re around $12,000 to $15,000 a battery for a type of car that normally sells for about $22,000 … So you can see why the economics are what they are.”
This is the first time an auto industry executive has been this forthright about battery costs. Ford is currently promoting its $39,200 Focus EV at events around the country.
Dr. George G. Spaulding is a retired General Motors executive and distinguished executive-in-residence emeritus at the School of Business at the College of Charleston. He can be reached at 2 Wharfside St. 2A Charleston SC 29401.