Ford Dominates February 2010 US Sales Results

By Chris Haak

Not content to watch many of its primary rivals struggle without any response, Ford has clearly seized the initiative in the monthly sales race as the economy slowly climbs its way out of the Great Recession. GM is weakened by the stigma of its 2009 bankruptcy, production constraints, and the loss of Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, and Saab. Chrysler is weakened by a thin product lineup in desperate need of update. Toyota is still reeling from its millions of recalled vehicles. Meanwhile, Ford has climbing quality scores, did not need bankruptcy or a bailout, and is in the thick of a series of new-model launches. In fact, for the first time in more than a decade, Ford managed to top GM’s US sales. GM has held the annual sales crown in the US since the 1930s.

Ford’s February 2010 performance was very impressive – more than triple the overall industry’s 13 percent gain in February – ringing in at a 43 percent gain in the US. Leading the charge for Ford was the Fusion midsize sedan, which saw an impressive 116.5 percent gain over February 2009. Overall, each Ford car model was up at least 38.4%, and collectively the cars were up 63.1 percent. Ford utilities (SUVs and crossovers) were up 41.4 percent, with all current models showing double-digit gains, and Ford trucks were all in positive territory with the exception of heavy trucks. Combined, Ford trucks were up 36.2%.

Overall, Lincoln sales were also in positive territory, but the MKS and MKX both posted double-digit declines. At Mercury, Milan sales nearly doubled from February 2009, and only the Mountaineer saw a decline. Every Volvo model posted a sales increase except for the S60, which is launching a new version in the coming weeks, and the S80 (down 1.3 percent). There was also relative weakness in the long-in-the-tooth XC90, which posted just a 2.3 percent sales increase. As with GM and Chrysler, fleet sales also dramatically aided Ford’s February results. Ford’s retail sales were very solid, but the overall numbers are much better thanks to fleet sales.

Chrysler managed to eke out a small gain (84,449 units sold in February 2010 vs. 84,050 units sold in February 2009) to break a string of 25 straight months of year-over-year sales declines for Detroit’s smallest automaker. I don’t want to rain on Chrysler’s parade (if there is a parade scheduled for a sales gain of less than a whole percent), but about 58 percent (48,617) of them were sold to fleet buyers. According to the company, fleet sales are a profitable business for Chrysler, and the spike in fleet sales is indicative of commercial buyers having faith in the company. Who knows if that is spin or not, but Chrysler still has a long way to go before it’s out of the woods. Based on whichmodels saw the largest sales increases – Sebring (up 99 percent), Compass (up 81 percent), Avenger (up 60 percent), the fleet story seems to be corroborated, because it seems unlikely that retail customers would suddenly be lining up at Chrysler showrooms to buy cars that the company itself has acknowledged need help sooner rather than later.

Toyota – a company that’s been in the news for the past five or six weeks for reasons it would rather not be – suffered a 9 percent sales decline in February amidst its recall problems and stop-sale order in the early part of the month. This was not as dramatic of a decline as many analysts had forecast, and the company is dialing up incentives to – in its own words – “far reaching” levels in an effort to boost sales and get buyers back into the dealerships. The only Toyotas that saw sales gains were Venza, Prius, 4Runner, and Tacoma. The only Lexus models that had increases in February were the LS sedan and just-launched GX 460 SUV.

GM’s overall results were about in line with the industry, posting an 11.5% sales increase. GM’s continuing brands – Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, and Buick – did pretty well, though, posting a 32.2 percent sales increase. Dragging down the company’s overall results were the discarded (or to-be-discarded) brands of Hummer, Saturn, Saab, and Pontiac. Collectively, those four declined 86.1 percent, as their February 2009 sales of 22,303 units declined to 3,102 units. Saab sold only a measly 72 cars during February; it’s clear that Spyker needs to get Saab jump started as soon as possible if it wants to have hope of continuing.

Even GM’s core brands saw multiple signs of weakness, however. LaCrosse sales were great (up 163.3 percent), Enclave sales were good (up 12.2 percent), but Lucerne sales grew just 0.7 percent, representing a gain of just nine units. Cadillac only showed strength in its new SRX (up an impressive 541.7 percent) and its Escalade (up 11.3 percent), but the CTS was down 17.5 percent, in spite of the addition of the wagon variant and availability of the CTS-V performance model.

At Chevrolet, most models posted double-digit gains, with the exception of medium duty trucks (discontinued), Traverse (down 8.3 percent), Tahoe (down 25.9 percent), Colorado (down 26.0 percent), and Corvette (down 39.2 percent). The Colorado is probably on its way out the door in the next year or two (as Bob Lutz recently hinted), but the Corvette’s sales figures are somewhat worrying. Chevy has historically sold some 30,000-plus Corvettes in a typical year; without knowing the precise selling patterns for the car (which surely are much stronger in the summer months), the car’s year to date sales (over two months) project to less than 10,00o units annually.

GMC posted solid results for the Acadia (up 36.1 percent), Terrain (up 303 percent over the Pontiac Torrent that it replaced), and Yukon XL (up 60.4 percent), but posted declines elsewhere in the lineup. The Sierra pickup’s sales actually fell a bit (down 1.6 percent), while its cousin, the Silverado pickup, posted just a 0.2 percent increase. Looking at Ford’s F-series results (up 39.3 percent) and the Ram pickup results (down 29 percent), it’s not hard to see where those potential GM and Chrysler truck buyers have gone. While the precise breakdown of fleet versus retail sales is not noted in GM’s press release, overall sales gains were higher than the retail sales gains noted for most models, so GM’s fleet sales grew in February much more quickly than did retail sales.

Although Ford led the way among mainstream brands, Subaru was nipping at its heels (+38 percent). Volkswagen (+33 percent) and Nissan (+29 percent) also gained at a far better pace than the overall industry did, compared to a very weak February 2009. Subaru’s strong sales came thanks to its new Legacy (up 102 percent) and Outback (up 138 percent), while Forester sales were basically flat (up just 1 percent). Tribeca sales fell 50 percent and Impreza sales fell 10 percent.

Volkswagen’s sales gains came mostly on the strength of the refreshed Golf/GTI and Jetta. Golf/GTI sales were up 69.7 percent, and Jetta sales were up 30.8 percent. Tiguan (up 94.0 percent), Routan (up 122.4 percent), Passat (up 67.4 percent), and New Beetle coupe (up 59.1 percent) sales were also quite strong, though those models did not sell in the same volumes that the Jetta/Golf did. Only the Touareg (about to be replaced; down 44.1 percent), CC (down 23.5 percent) and Eos (down 30.4 percent) saw declines at VW. Helping VW’s corporate results as well was Audi, which posted an overall 33.6 percent gain. Boosting Audi’s US sales results in February 2010 were the A3 (up 126.0 percent), A4 (up 20.8 percent), A5 (up 108.3 percent), and Q5 (up 69.1 percent). The A6 showed a moderate gain, while the A8 (soon to be replaced; down 54.7 percent), Q7 (down 16.4 percent), and TT (down 30.8 percent) bringing up the rear.

Nissan’s results were driven primarily by its car lineup strength; Nissan cars were up 42.4 percent and its trucks were up 12.2 percent. Cars that posted the largest gains were the Versa (up 130.1 percent), Sentra (up 34.8 percent), and Maxima (up 89.5 percent). The Altima posted just a 1.2 percent increase, and the 370Z dropped a precipitous 51.9 percent. Even Godzilla, the GT-R, fell 58.0 percent, from 169 units to just 71. In trucks, the Frontier (up 56.6 percent), Titan (up 14.1 percent), Xterra (up 34.8 percent), Armada (up 101.2 percent), and Rogue (up 11.4 percent) posted solid gains. The Pathfinder was down 0.5 percent, and you can stick a fork in the Quest – it’s done, down 93.8 percent to just 43 units.

Infiniti posted solid numbers as well, but was below the overall industry with a 10.7 percent gain. There was strength in the G sedan (up 25.2 percent) and G coupe (up 41.1 percent), as well as in the QX56 SUV (up a brisk 219.4 percent), but the EX (down 34.7 percent), FX (down 17.6 percent), and M (about to be replaced; down 26.2 percent) all posted double-digit declines.

Japan’s other large automaker, Honda, had a mixed bag for February 2010, with an overall increase of 12.2 percent. The Accord is clearly eating the Camry’s lunch, with a nice 40.6 percent gain, but aside from the Accord, only the Odyssey posted a double-digit gain, at 11.4 percent. Of note also is the fact that the Accord Crosstour – which is clearly related to the Accord sedan and coupe, but shares no body panels with it – is counted among the Accord’s totals, and therefore helping its results. Without the Crosstour, Accord sales would have increased 25.3 percent rather than 40.6 percent. The Element (down 14.8 percent) and Ridgeline (down 11.2 percent) showed weakness, as did the Fit (down 31.1 percent). On the Acura side of the ledger, most models showed moderate weakness, with the exception of the MDX (up 64.9 percent) and RDX (up 19.9 percent). Overall, Acura sales increased by 16.7 percent.

Among luxury brands, we’ve already discussed Audi, which led the pack again. Right behind Audi’s increase, however, was BMW, which posted a 13.7 percent sales increase (which represents a 16.3 percent increase for the BMW brand and a 1.6 percent increase for the Mini brand). The 3 Series was up 6.3 percent, the Z4 was up 1,752.4 percent (over an extremely low base), but all other car models were down by double digits. BMW’s SAVs (also known as SUVs or crossovers by others) were up big, with the X3 up 31.5 percent, the X5 up 75.5 percent, and the X6 up 97.6 percent). Of Mini’s three models, only the convertible posted a gain, an 1,108.7 percent one, improving from just 46 units sold in February 2009.

Daimler AG sales were up just 1.4 percent over February 2009’s numbers, with most of its strength coming from the new 2010 E-Class (up 92.2 percent). The C-Class was up 6.4 percent, and the GLK compact SUV was up 10.8 percent. Aside from the models that Daimler bragged about in its sales press release, trucks showed strength and cars showed weakness. The GL was up 45.5 percent, M Class was up 22.3 percent, and Mercedes-Benz-badged Sprinter tallied 515 sales. Cars weren’t as strong, but most of the weakness was in the premium levels or in discontinued models. The CLS was down 85.1 percent, the S-Class was down 27.4 percent, the SL was down 77.5 percent, and the SLK was down 78.4 percent.

Daimler’s Smart brand’s struggles continued in February 2010. As we’ve noted before, whenever a company boasts of sales gains from month to month rather than comparing to the same period of a year earlier, it’s a bad sign. In the case of Smart, the companybragged of a more than 60 percent gain over January 2010, but in reality, sales fell 68.8 percent from February 2009 to February 2010.

One of the darlings of 2009, Hyundai Group, showed a 10.2 percent gain in February, but that number lagged the overall market. The Hyundai brand itself had an 11.0 percent gain, with the Sonata (up 58.3 percent), Accent (up 22.5 percent), Genesis (up 39.5 percent), Santa Fe (up 52.5 percent), Tucson (up 101.8 percent) leading the way. Laggards for Hyundai were the Elantra (down 11.3 percent), Azera (down 36.6 percent), and Veracruz (down 56.8 percent).

Kia posted a 9.0 percent gain overall, which also lagged the overall market. The Rio (up 81.8 percent), Soul (up 10,488.2 percent), Borrego (up 50.5 percent), and all-new Sorento (up 132.5 percent) led the way. Kias that weren’t carrying their weight in February included the Optima (up just 1.6 percent), Rondo (down 65.3 percent), Sedona (down 84.3 percent), and about-to-be-replaced Sportage (down 60.9 percent).

Rounding out the list were several smaller automakers. Mazda posted a 4.0 percent gain in February, thanks almost exclusively to the Mazda3 (up 29.4 percent), CX-7 (up 14.1 percent), and CX-9 (up 22.0 percent). The Mazda6 is clearly blowing some kind of opportunity, since it was re-engineered for 2009 and fell faster than the bestselling Camry did (down 30.9 percent). The Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner clone Mazda Tribute did far worse than its cousins in February, with sales down 30.7 percent, while the Escape was up 50.2 percent and the Mariner was up 39.0 percent.

Suzuki can’t seem to find the bottom in its sales crash, with sales falling 60.6 percent from already-depressed February 2009 levels. The company literally has almost no cars left in its lineup, with only the SX4 and all-new Kizashi carrying the flag in terms of car offerings for the quirky motorcycle-building auto manufacturer. SX4 sales were down 49.1 percent, and the company sold just 219 units of its new Kizashi sedan. (A Kizashi lands in the Autosavant Garage next week). The news wasn’t much better on the truck side; the XL7 is no longer being produced, the Grand Vitara was down 58.2 percent, and the Nissan Frontier-based Equator pickup was up 41.9 percent, but to just 61 units. In other words, on average, one Suzuki Equator was sold in each of the 50 states in February. Although the Daewoo-based, Korean-built Suzukis of a few years ago weren’t critically acclaimed, at least they were cheap, and helped Suzuki to hover near the 100,000 unit mark in sales. Now we’re at the point where Suzuki has sold only 101 more cars year to date than Porsche did; Mazda CX-7 sales match Suzuki’s. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Suzuki will be able to sustain itself in the US market, unless Kizashi sales really take off, and the company leverages some of its small-car expertise by bringing its well-regarded Swift stateside.

Mitsubishi’s story is similar to Suzuki’s, but on a larger scale. Mitsubishi sold about three times as many cars as Suzuki did, and its sales fell by 10.4 percent. The Galant seems to have picked up some Toyota Camry sales, with sales climbing 41.7 percent, but to only 873 units. The Eclipse (down 55.7 percent), Eclipse Spyder (down 89.6 percent) and Lancer (down 17.4 percent) all harmed the cause. As was the pattern elsewhere, SUVs did well in February, with the Endeavor up 162.0 percent (to just 579 units) and the Outlander up 17.0 percent.

There are legitimate concerns about the viability of Chrysler – at least until the reinforcements arrive from Fiat – as well as dropping sales at Suzuki and Mitsubishi. But overall, February 2010 was another step toward the industry’s recovery. Another obvious conclusion that I was able to draw from diving over the numbers from last month was that newly-launched vehicles tend to fare far better than long-in-the-tooth models. Surely part of that is due to the newness of a new model, but I’m sure that a significant factor is also marketing budgets that prevent companies from devoting significant marketing resources to many models outside of those that were just launched. There are some very good cars out there, and many of those good cars are being ignored in the marketplace.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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