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Major Automakers Post Gains in February; Trucks, Utilities Sell Well

3/4/2013
Even with the national sequester kicking in last week, there was good news about February new-car and light-truck sales, which rose--in high single digits (when selling-day adjusted)--from the previous year's same-month totals. It can be noted that last February was a strong sales month for many automakers, which makes comparisons with smaller gains this year seem less vibrant, according to automaker statements.

Four of the major U.S. automakers--General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Fiat-Chrysler, and Toyota Groups--reported gains from a year ago, while several--including Honda, Hyundai, and Nissan Groups--posted stable or lower sales last month. Volkswagen and BMW Groups eked out year-over-year increases, while Daimler Group, parent of Mercedes-Benz and Smart, posted a double-digit gain.

Factors including gasoline prices nearing $4 per gallon at the pump and major winter storms across the country did not hold back all consumers from showrooms in February. It was a good month for light-truck deliveries. Chevrolet, Ford, Ram, Nissan, and Toyota brands all posted large pickup delivery increases in February vs. last year, which may be partly due to an improving housing market.

In addition, utility and crossover sales rose from a year ago for many automakers. For example, Ford Explorer and Escape sales were up in double digits, while GM's stable of crossovers and utilities--including the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Equinox along with the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon large utilities--also fared well, as did Nissan's redesigned Pathfinder, which saw sales more than double in February. The redesigned RAV4 was also a volume leader for Toyota in February, and Venza, 4Runner and Highlander models all posted double-digit increases.

GM said all four of its brands, led by Cadillac, posted increases from a year ago. GM deliveries rose 7.2% from February 2012 on an unadjusted basis. Cadillac sales climbed by more than one-fourth with the benefit of the new ATS, and Buick's sales were also strengthened by Encore and Verano sales. Chevrolet and GMC large pickups were strong sellers, with demand for the full-size Silverado and Sierra models increasing in double digits.

Ford sales improved by 9.2% from a year ago, but were offset slightly by lower Lincoln sales. The Ford brand's sales were up in double digits with strong demand for the Fusion and Taurus on the car side and double-digit increases for the best-selling F-Series, Escape and Explorer on the truck side. Explorer sales climbed by more than two-thirds from a year ago.

Fiat-Chrysler also posted better sales--up nearly 4% from a year ago. The Dodge brand was the month's leader with double-digit gains for the Challenger, Charger, Avenger and Journey. Although Jeep brand sales slipped, the iconic Wrangler was in demand and posted an increase. The new Dart also continued to set the pace among smaller car models with 7,720 unit sales in February.

Toyota Group continued to hit its stride with all three of its brands posting increases from a year ago. The largest Japanese automaker reported a 4.3% gain from a year ago, which translates to an 8.7% increase when selling-day adjusted. The new Avalon posted its best month's sales--up nearly 70% from a year ago--since November 2007. Small and large models were popular. Corolla sales rose nearly 18%, while Tundra and Tacoma deliveries also rose in double digits from a year ago. Toyota offered 0% financing on six of its models in February, including Corolla. At the same time, Prius hybrid sales declined by more than 10% from February 2012, while Camry and Yaris sales also were lower than a year ago. Camry remained the best-selling car in the United States.

Among other multi-franchise automakers reporting totals for February, Honda Group reported a small gain on a selling-day-adjusted basis, while Nissan Group reported a small decline. A Honda official noted that winter storms in the Northeast slowed down sales at first, but the new Accord continued to gain momentum as did the redesigned Crosstour and the Pilot. Nissan's sales were off in single digits when compared to a strong February in 2012, although Pathfinder and Versa set new records.

Hyundai and Volkswagen Groups fared better. In fact, the Hyundai brand reported a record for the month with strong Santa Fe and Elantra deliveries, while Kia posted less stellar sales with only Optima posting an increase in February. Kia has a number of new models in the wings. VW Group posted a double-digit gain due to the strength of its Porsche and Audi luxury brand deliveries. The flagship VW brand posted strong sales of models with alternative diesel powertrains (TDI). The new Beetle nearly tripled sales in February this year, and VW also posted gains for Golf and Tiguan.

Among the independent brands reporting February totals, Mitsubishi led the pack with sales climbing by at least one-third with Subaru maintaining a smaller double-digit increase and Mazda's sales were stable. Suzuki, which is exiting the U.S. market, said sales were slightly lower than in February 2012.

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