2008 JANUARY AUTO SALES

2008 JANUARY AUTO SALES
GM sales up 2.6% in difficult month
Ford, Toyota, Chrysler, Honda, Nissan and others post declines
Richard Truett Automotive News
February 1, 2008 - 1:14 pm ET UPDATED: 2/1/08 5:05 p.m. EST
DETROIT -- With its new vehicles gaining traction, General Motors was one of the few automakers reporting a retail sales increase in what was a very tough January for U.S. auto sales.
Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, Honda, Volkswagen and several others all lost sales during the month.
Total sales fell 2.9 percent to 1.06 million vehicles. The seasonally adjusted annualized rate was 15.8 million vehicles.
But GM, on the strength of its Chevrolet Malibu, Cadillac CTS and hot-selling mid-size crossovers, delivered 250,926 vehicles in January, up 2.6 percent over January 2007.
Of that total, 186,187 vehicles were sold at retail, while 64,739 were fleet sales. The total includes 148,191 trucks.
The star of GM's show was the new Chevrolet Malibu, which has one of the industry's fastest turn rates, staying on dealer lots about 16 days. GM says Malibu sales rose 58 percent over a year ago. The new Malibu won the North American Car of the Year award last month at the Detroit auto show.
Some of the Malibu's sales could be coming at the expense of the older, slightly larger Impala, which saw its sales drop from 25,275, a year ago to 17,544 in January. In any case, Malibu racked up January sales of 14,541, up 57.9 percent from the 9,209 sold a year ago.
Other winners for GM include the Cadillac CTS with sales of 5,534, up 95 percent from 2,843 sold a year ago, and the Chevrolet Aveo, up 40 percent. Aveo sales in January were 5,314. The Buick Enclave/GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook, were up 134 percent over last year. Sales of each totaled 3,390, 7,318, and 1,951 respectively.
GM's smaller crossover SUVs, the Pontiac Torrent, Saturn Vue and Chevrolet Equinox registered a 38 percent gain.
The increased sales helped shore up GM's market share. Mike DiGiovanni, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, estimated the company gained 2 percentage points of share in January.
The January sales boom left GM with 165,000 units in dealer inventory, the lowest it has been in 25 years.
"GM is back in the car business," said Mark LeNeve, GM's vice president of North American sales and marketing.
Ford losing streak continues
Ford's long losing streak continued into 2008, with the company posting a 3.9 percent sales drop over a year ago. Ford has registered just one year-over-year monthly sales gain since October 2006, in November 2007.
Ford did have some good news. Sales of the refreshed Focus sedan rose 44 percent over last January. Ford's Edge sold 10,888 units in January, up from 5,586 a year ago. With sales of 3,026, the MKX, the Edge's upscale cousin, nearly doubled sales over January 2007.
Ford's Escape also posted a strong month, with a sales increase of 33.1 percent over last year.
But Ford's cash cow, the aging F-series pickup, saw another month of sales declines with an 8.4 percent drop. Ford sold 41,125 F-series trucks in January, down from 44,919 a year ago.
Ford sold 159,276 vehicles in January, down from 165,803 during the same month last year.
Toyota has soft month
Toyota Motor Corp. showed mortality during the month.
Its January sales were off 2.3 percent compared with January 2007. The Tundra tumbled. The big truck sold 12,073 units in January, down 37.2 percent from December. That's the best comparison because the new Tundra was just being launched a year ago. Sales of the gasoline-electric Prius hybrid surged 37 percent to 11,379 in January, up from 8,299 sold a year ago.
"On the retail front, consumers are sitting in the catbird's seat, with falling interest rates and a competitive market giving rise to showroom values," Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., said in a statement. "On the product front, the migration toward passenger cars dovetails nicely with February's launch of the all-new Corolla and Matrix."
Part of Toyota's problem for the month was a shortage of inventory, said Bob Carter, group vice president and Toyota Division general manager. He said Toyota experienced its "best January in history" in the region between Texas and Chicago, and the area from Boston to Washington, D.C.
But he said dealers in those regions were held back by shortages of certain models of Camrys and RAV4s.
He acknowledged there were soft spots in the brand's lineup in January. Two SUVs, the FJ Cruiser and 4Runner, fell by 37 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Corolla dipped 18 percent as the company sold off old inventory in preparation for this month's launch of a new generation.
Dodge gains, but Chrysler down
Chrysler started 2008 with mixed news. Led by new Dodge Avenger, sales of Dodge cars jumped 42 percent over a year ago. Charger, Viper and Caliber also gained in January. But it wasn't enough to drag Chrysler into positive territory because of the losses posted by the Chrysler and Jeep brands.
Chrysler sales were off 17 percent; Jeep was down 6 percent. Perhaps the most worrisome sales trend for Chrysler was the cold reception the company's new minivans received. The Dodge Caravan posted January sales 56 percent lower than a year ago. The Chrysler Town & Country saw a 20 percent drop.
Even the Jeep Wrangler, one of the company's top performers, got hurt in January. The rugged off-roader sold 6,137 units last month, down from 8,954 a year ago.
Chrysler officials acknowledged this is the first time monthly Wrangler sales have declined since the new model was introduced in fall 2006.
Steven Landry, Chrysler's executive vice president of North American sales said: "The strength of orders still strong. We want to be sure we continue the momentum with Wrangler. Our challenge is to make sure both the 2-door and 4-door stay as strong as they have been."
Landry said Chrysler's Toledo Supplier Park is still "maxed out" keeping up with Wrangler orders.
Acura drop drags Honda results
Meanwhile, combined sales of Honda and Acura brand vehicles dipped slightly in January, down 2.3 percent over a year ago, to 98,511. Honda division reported a half percent drop in sales.
On the strength of the redesigned Civic and Accord and the Fit subcompact, Honda cars gained 7.1 percent. But its trucks lost 6.2 percent. The Acura division dinged Honda in January, with a sales decline of 14.2 percent.
In other reports issued so far today:
-- Nissan North America saw its January sales skid 7.3 percent. Sales of Nissan branded vehicles were down 7.8 percent, while the Infiniti luxury division registered a 3.6 percent dip over last January. The totals: Nissan sales were 67,971, down from 73,680.
Several new vehicles, such as the Rogue SUV and Versa compact, are off to a quick start, adding more than 11,000 units to Nissan's total. But that wasn't enough to offset lower sales for the Titan truck, Armada, Quest and Murano.
-- Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia didn't fare much better than their Japanese counterparts. Hyundai saw its U.S. sales dip from 27,721 a year ago to 21,452 last month, a drop of 22.6 percent. Kia did better but still lost ground. Its sales of 21,355 in January were off 5.2 percent compared with sales of 22,524 a year ago.
" We are disappointed with our sales results and recognize this is a challenging sales environment.," said Hyundai Motor America's vice president of national sales, Dave Zuchowski.
-- Mercedes-Benz, with an increase of 19 percent, posted its highest ever January sales. Some winners for the German automaker included the C-class, which gained 18 percent with sales of 4,647 compared with 3,928 sold a year ago.
-- Volkswagen saw its January sales skid 13.2 percent in January. VW is without its diesel-powered Jetta, a popular vehicle in a time of high fuel prices. Sales of the Touareg SUV dropped by almost 50 percent.
-- Sales at Porsche were off 13 percent.
-- Suzuki opened the 2008 sales season with a 12.9 percent drop compared with January 2007.
-- Subaru sales fell 6.5 percent, but the recently freshened Impreza chalked up a small gain in sales over last January.
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