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August sales: More Chrysler Highlights

by Bill Cawthon on

A stagnant economy, plunging consumer confidence, and an East Coast hurricane on the last selling weekend of the month combined to keep a lid on August light vehicle sales, but there were still some bright spots.

Chief among these was the performance of Chrysler Group where sales jumped 30.6 percent to 130,119 cars and trucks. The company’s August market share was 12.1 percent, 2.1 points more than last August. That’s the largest gain posted by any automaker. Year-to-date (YTD) sales are up 22.5%, second only to Kia among the major players. Chrysler’s performance was good enough to bump Toyota out of the number three slot for the month. There’s still a big gap in YTD sales, but it’s less than half the gap there was a year ago and that isn’t all just Toyota’s supply problems.

Chrysler blew past all the analyst predictions and almost doubled the average forecast. After 17 months of improving sales one would think the analysts would be a bit more generous.

The Chrysler 200 was hot in August, coming in at No. 27 out of 264 light vehicle models on the bestseller charts. It easily beat the August sales of the third-generation Sebring from 2007 to 2010. In YTD sales, it lags only the the Sebring’s 2008 sales year.

The Jeep Wrangler missed the August Top 20 by just 295 sales. It’s still the best-selling traditional SUV. The Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee both outsold the Ford Explorer in August. In fact, they outsold every domestic crossover and SUV except the Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Escape.

The Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country topped the minivan segment in August and the Dodge is now the leader in YTD sales, as well.

Ram truck sales improved 11.8 percent, more than the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, Toyota Tundra or Nissan Titan. Only the GMC Sierra had a larger increase.

All things considered, the Detroit automakers had a decent month. While total light vehicle sales only went up about 7.5 percent, the combined sales of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors grew 18.4 percent. The Motor City Three claimed 48.8% of the total light vehicle market in August, 4.5 points more than the 44.3% they had in August 2010. Ford sales grew 11.1% and GM came in 18.0% ahead of its numbers from last year.

The Chevy Cruze continues to be the hottest American-badged car and GM began delivering the new Korean-designed, American-built Sonic. 280 little blue hedgehogs found new homes last month. Of course, vanilla is still America’s favorite flavor and the Toyota Camry is still America’s favorite car.

Toyota sales dropped again last month. YTD sales are now down 7.8 percent as the largest Japanese automaker tries to recover from the natural disasters in its homeland.

Honda sales are also down, but it’s more than earthquakes, tsunamis and runaway reactors at work: its products aren’t hitting the notes like they used to do. The new Civic, which got an almost-unheard-of negative review from Consumer Reports, is in trouble and the Accord may actually have bored itself to death. The Accord, which used to vie with the Camry for the top spot came in behind the Camry, Nissan Altima, Chevy Cruze and Hyundai Sonata in August. The Civic dropped entirely off the top 20 list and came in just ahead of the Chrysler 200 in passenger car sales.

Nissan wasn’t impacted as much by the Japanese disasters as Toyota and Honda were, but it did take a hit from Hurrican Irene. Nissan posted a nice 19.2% sales increase in August and is up 13.6% on the year, but a company spokesman said the company could have done better had it not been for Irene hitting the Northeast, Nissan’s most important market.

Most of the other Japanese automakers also finished the month in the black, but Subaru, which used to post new sales records like clockwork, had its fourth consecutive month of deficits.

The Korean automakers both posted improved numbers: Kia set its 12th consecutive sales record with Sorento sales up 50 percent. The new Hyundai Sonata is doing very well, running 22% ahead of the previous model in YTD sales.

Volkswagen had another good month; the new Jetta is now firmly entrenched in the top 20 lists for both monthly and YTD sales. Audi came through with another record month and came in fifth in the premium segment.

BMW still leads the luxury brands. It posted a 6.5% sales gain, thanks to solid SUV sales, but that was wiped out by a big plunge in Mini sales caused by a shortage of product due to model changeover.

Sales of Daimler’s marquee brand were down 1.9% in August as sales of the bread-and-butter C, E, and M-Class lines came up short. The folks in Stuttgart don’t seem to be doing any better with Smart than Penske did. Could it be something to do with the fact the ForTwo is a 14-year-old product that’s no longer competitive? Daimler did unload seven of the B-Class small cars in August, bringing the delivered total to twelve.

Volvo seems to be doing much better now that it’s free of Ford. Sales were up 17.4% last month.

The one thing the analysts called right was August’s seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR). They pegged it a 12.1 million and it came in at 12.12 million. That’s an improvement over last year but a 110,000-sale drop from July 2011. Just shy of 1.07 million cars and light trucks were sold last month, an increase of 7.5% over August 2010. Sales for the first eight months of 2011 total 8,464,450, up 10.5% compared to the same period last year.

There are still a few Pollyannas (most notably at General Motors) who believe the auto industry will record 13 million sales or more in 2011. Hitting 13 million sales means the industry would have to average over 1.13 million sales in each of the four remaining months of 2011. Sales have hit that number just twice this year, in March and in April. Unless something wonderful happens to the economy, the government does another “Cash for Clunkers,” or the car companies start offering once-in-a-lifetime deals and financing to anyone still breathing enough to fog a mirror, 13 million just doesn’t look realistic: the volumes being seen over the past few months look much more like 12.5 million. Some in the analyst biz are saying we might not even see 13 million in 2012.

In the meantime, it looks like the folks in Auburn Hills have the right idea and some solid products. Kudos for a great August and best wishes going forward.

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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