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June Sales Recap – Chrysler increase tops major automakers

by Bill Cawthon on

There was lots of good news this month. At the top of the list is the fact Chrysler Group came in with the largest improvement of any major automaker, up 35.4 percent, easily maintaining its ranking among the top six – or seven, if you lump Hyundai and Kia together.

Highlights were numerous: Chrysler brand sales were up 30.1 percent, Dodge jumped up 66.6 percent, an 85.5% windfall for the Wrangler put Jeep ahead 24.8 percent. Even Ram sales were up: Ram pickup sales grew 9.6 percent while heavy-duty truck sales improved 29 percent. Dakota sales grew 52.4 percent – more on pickups later. Thanks to strong fleet buying, Chrysler Group passenger car sales skyrocketed 94 percent while trucks came in with a more modest 18% improvement.

Chrysler also picked up 1.46 points of market share, more than any other carmaker, becoming the only one of the Big Six to show a gain.

The Town & Country continued to pace the minivan segment, while the Honda Odyssey found itself in an unaccustomed third place. Competition was tight as less than 1,000 units separated the top four models. The Caravan brought up the rear in June but remains ahead of the Toyota Sienna in year-to-date (YTD) sales. As a percentage of total sales, the minivan segment has contracted about 0.33% this year.

Along with the sunshine, there were some clouds. In terms of overall sales, the industry had a sobering month. Sales were up 14.4% from last year but the general increases were small. More worrisome was June’s seasonally adjusted annual sales rate (SAAR) which came in at 11.08 million units. That’s a nice jump from last year’s abysmal 9.70 million, but it’s well short of May 2010’s 11.63 million. In fact, it’s the slowest pace since February. Considering how many of those sales went to fleet buyers of one sort or another, it’s a strong reminder of just how weak the consumer market is. And with the challenges facing the economy right now, it’s hard to predict when confidence will return.

In terms of numbers, 983,738 new vehicles were delivered in June. The majority were passenger cars, many headed for rental fleets. The Big Three took a slightly larger bite of the pie last month, claiming about 46.5% compared to 45.4% last June.

General Motors’ sales were up 11.4% but core brand (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC) sales rose 37.1 percent. Of course, dumping the deadwood out of Chrysler’s numbers would have given the Auburn Hills gang a 39.9% improvement, so cherry-picking is of limited use. On the other hand, Chrysler isn’t trying to look pretty for an IPO.

Ford finished June 13.4% ahead of June 2009, its smallest monthly gain since last November. Mercury sales were strong, but Lincoln’s weren’t, no doubt due to the absence of the tarted-up Focus that’s supposed to be a game-changer in the premium segment. Ford’s results were also dragged down by a 29% plunge in Volvo sales.

Honda and Toyota posted mediocre improvements of 6.2% and 6.8%, respectively and both gave up market share – over a point in Toyota’s case, making it the biggest loser in June. Nissan’s gain broke the double-digit mark, coming in at 10.8% but Nissan gave up a couple of tenths of a point in share.

Among the second-tier Japanese brands, the results were mixed. Subaru brought home another sales record as sales jumped 16.0% and Mazda zoom-zoomed to a 32.8% gain. Mitsubishi and Suzuki both missed their numbers, Mitsu by 3.8% and Suzuki by 5.3 percent.

The Koreans were happy campers: both Hyundai and Kia set new monthly and first-half sales records. Hyundai almost equalled Chrysler with a 35% leap while Kia settled for 18.9 percent. Their combined sales would make Hyundai Kia Automotive Group the sixth-largest in the U.S. market, surpassing Nissan.

Porsche had a very good month with the largest increase of any automaker. Sales warped 137.4% as the new Cayenne added to the success of the Panamera. All of the Porsche lines were up in June.

Volkswagen was the European volume king in June; sales increased 11.5% thanks to some help from Audi with posted a record first half and leapfrogged Inifiniti to take the No. 6 slot in the luxury segment. A strong month for BMW gave it the top spot in the segment, followed by Mercedes-Benz, leaving Lexus in the show position. Cadillac was the top-ranked American premium brand, coming in at No. 4.

The big story of the month, outside of Chrysler’s good results, is pickups. For the past three months, growth in sales of full-size pickups has outpaced the market’s growth. In June, full-size pickup sales left no doubt they are trending upward, climbing 25.9 percent, almost double the increase in general light vehicle sales. Company officials say a large number of these pickups are going to commercial fleets that are replacing significant numbers of older vehicles and, in some cases, actually enlarging their fleets. While this may be a short-lived phenomenon, it is seen as a possible harbinger of good news for the economy. If businesses are spending money on vehicles again, it’s possible they will start hiring again, one of the key factors in any hope of vehicle sales returning to anything like their pre-crash levels. People who are out of work or are afraid of losing their jobs don’t commit to big-ticket purchases and consumer confidence has taken a couple of recent hits.

July and August will likely be challenging; last year, sales were fueled by the “Cash for Clunkers” program and private-sector rebates of that magnitude are out of the question this year. July’s 11.22 million pace is doable; sales have already surpassed that figure twice this year. However, August’s 14.09 million is probably out of reach even for Ford. JD Powers has already reduced its forecast for the year to 11.8 million light vehicles but there is still hope for a 12 million-unit year provided the economy doesn’t have another big hiccup. Beyond that, it’s going to take some serious job creation in the United States. For too long, we have depended on consumers to drive the engine of commerce while depriving them of the needed fuel by offshoring, outsourcing or eliminating their jobs. American consumers have lost an estimated $10 trillion of wealth in just the past three years: that’s an awful lot of cars and trucks.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for just-auto.com, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.


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