By Marty Padgett
Is it time to call the car industry recovered? In April, automakers sold vehicles at a rate that analysts say will only get better as dealers head into the spring selling season.
Sales numbers are being reported today from around the auto industry, and early on, some of the strongest numbers are coming from Chrysler. The automaker, in alliance with Fiat, says its sales were up 20 percent over a year ago, on the strength of new model lines.
Elsewhere in Detroit, Ford's sales were off by 5 percent, while General Motors watched its sales drop 8 percent. Both were in line with expectations. Among other big automakers, Volkswagen posted a 31.5-percent increase, while Toyota rebounded from its year-ago stagger after the March 11 earthquake, reporting a 25.5-percent rise in sales for the month.
April's strong numbers weren't quite as brisk as those in March, when automakers posted a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 14.4 million sales. Though still far off the all-time peak of 16.9 million units, the SAAR posted so far this year is approaching the 14.9 million units registered in 2008, the year the industry faced the full brunt of the financial crisis.
Sales are expected to continue to improve, according to analysts J.D. Power and Associates. April's numbers sometimes are misleading because of the long Easter holiday, says John Humphrey, Power's senior vice president of global automotive operations, but "the signs of sustained growth are evident."
Power estimates April 2012's SAAR at 13.8 million units, down slightly from March 2012's 14.4 million but up significantly from April 2011's SAAR of 13.2 million units--with an accompanying 8-percent increase in retail sales, Power notes in a release.
For the year, Power estimates the industry will post a SAAR of 14.3 million units, with 11.5 million of those being at the retail level.
The totals for April 2012, as reported by the automakers:
General Motors: GM (NYSE: GM) says its April sales of 213,387 vehicles marked an 8-percent slide in the U.S. market, though retail sales were roughly equal to those in the period a year before. Chevrolet sales of 155,487 units were down 8.4 percent; GMC's 32,603 units sold marked an increase of 4.5 percent. Buick sold 15,446 vehicles for a 16.1-percent slide over April 2011, and Cadillac sales fell 25 percent from the year-ago period to 9,851 units.
Ford: Ford (NYSE: F) reports its sales of 180,350 vehicles in April were 5 percent lower than the same period in 2011. The Ford brand's total of 174,042 units accounted for a 4.7-percent drop from 182,542 sales a year ago; Lincoln's sales of 6,308 vehicles were off 12.8 percent from last April's 7,236 units.
Toyota / Lexus / Scion: Toyota (NYSE:TM) says it sold a total of 178,044 vehicles last month, for a 25.5-percent increase over April of 2011--the month after the tragic earthquake in northern Japan. Of the total, some 160,493 units were sold as Toyotas, a 27.2-percent rise; Lexus sales were up 12.3 percent to 17,551 units; and Scion was up 8.4 percent at 5,503 units.
Chrysler: The sole domestic-branded automaker to report increased sales, Chrysler says it moved 141,165 vehicles in April, up 20 percent from April 2011. The Chrysler brand was up 56 percent at 31,879 vehicles sold, behind a 138-percent increase by the 300 sedan; Jeep rose 19 percent to 38,684 units with the Wrangler up 35 percent. Dodge rose just 2 percent to 45,248 units sold, while Ram trucks accounted for 21,505 sales, an increase of 12 percent. Fiat sold 3,849 500 hatchbacks on the month, with generous incentives helping the brand get much closer to its initial sales targets.
Honda / Acura: Honda (NYSE:HMC) sold a total of 122,012 vehicles in April, up 10 percent over its year-ago totals. The Honda brand accounted for 109,837 vehicles, up 9.2 percent; Acura was up 18 percent, to 12,175 units.
Nissan / Infiniti: Nissan (OTCPK:NSANY) says it sold 71,329 vehicles in April, off 0.3 percent from April of 2011. The Nissan brand was off 8.9 percent to 64,200 units, and sales of the electric Leaf were down sharply; Infiniti was up 5.4 percent to 7,129 vehicles sold.
Hyundai: Hyundai's (OTC:HYMLF) CEO John Krafcik reports via Twitter that "Hyundai's April sales 62K+, up 1%. New 3rd shift (Sept.) at our Alabama plant will help us grow Elantra/Sonata to better meet demand. ^jfk" A total of 62,264 vehicles set a new April record for the automaker, and its new Veloster hatchback moved more than 3000 units--nearly as many as its Genesis luxury sedan.
Kia: Kia (OTC:KIMTF) sales of 47,550 units set a new April sales record, at just a few hundred units over last April's 47,074 units.
Volkswagen: Volkswagen (OTCPK:VLKAY) sales rose 31.5 percent on the month, the brand's best sales numbers since 1971. Jetta sales fell 7.6 percent, but the Passat sold 10,096 units--while the Routan fell to just 908 copies moved.
Mazda: Sales of 21,506 vehicles helped Mazda (OTCPK:MZDAY) to a 4.2-percent sales gain in April over the year-ago period.
Mercedes-Benz: MBUSA reports sales of 22,336 vehicles in April, for a 23.8-percent increase over the same period last year.
BMW / MINI: Combined sales of BMW and MINI vehicles in the U.S. totaled 26,793 units in April, up 6.1 percent from April 2011. BMW accounted for 21,062 units of the total, up 12 percent; MINI sold 5,731 units last month, down 11.1 percent, though it notes the brand is up 6 percent on the year.
Subaru: Subaru says it sold 26,310 vehicles in April, up 6 percent on the month. On the year, it's up 16 percent, with the 2012 Impreza leading the charge--up 124 percent in April alone.
Audi: Audi says it sold 11,521 vehicles in April, up 15 percent on the month, and its 16th consecutive monthly sales record.
Mitsubishi: Sales at the Japanese automaker totaled 5,280 units, down 34.7 percent versus April 2011.
Volvo: Volvo sales fell 24.3 percent to 4,847 units; on the year, the brand is down 2.7 percent.
Jaguar/Land Rover: The combined British brands sold 4,365 vehicles in April, up 3 percent over last April. Land Rover sales were up 10 percent to 3,292 units; Jaguar was down on the month 14 percent, to 1,073 vehicles.
Porsche: Porsche (OTCPK:POAHY) sales of 3,437 vehicles in April were up 4 percent over a year ago.
Suzuki: Suzuki (OTCPK:SZKMY) sold 1,774 vehicles in April, off 17 percent.