||2010 Sales: A Race to the End
Bragging Rights Hinge on December
November sales matched October's brisk pace, another sign the auto recovery is gaining momentum. So how are individual automakers faring as 2010 comes to a close?
After three years behind Toyota, Ford Motor Co. will claw back to its traditional No. 2 spot. And Hyundai-Kia Group may join the previously all-American/Japanese Big 6, depending upon its close race with Nissan.
Many familiar sales rivalries already have been resolved. General Motors will remain No. 1. And the Ford brand will top Chevrolet for the second straight year.
But in some races a hot model or a wad of factory cash could still grab the checkered flag. And some big questions loom at Toyota and GM.
For all automakers, things are looking up.
November's annual selling rate was 12.2 million, said the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, matching October as the strongest SAAR since cash for clunkers.
The two months are a turning point, says forecaster Mike Jackson of IHS Automotive.
"We've hit an inflection point toward higher sustained levels of sales," he says. "We expect to hit another inflection point in the second half of 2011 to an even higher sales level."
Here are cases where December will decide some head-to-head races:
-- Will Hyundai-Kia replace Nissan as the No. 6 auto group?
Both have outperformed the market. But the Koreans grabbed a 4,410-unit lead through November, after trailing Nissan in full-year sales by 276,000 units in 2008 and 35,000 in 2009.
-- Will Subaru outsell Volkswagen?
Volkswagen won in 2008, Subaru in 2009. In a year in which each will exceed a quarter-million sales, Subaru leads by 4,163 units.
-- Will Mercedes-Benz snatch the luxury crown from Lexus?
Lexus has been America's best-selling luxury brand for 10 straight years. This year the race is so close that it hinges on whether to count one new model. The Sprinter commercial van is hardly a luxury vehicle, but this year U.S. models wear a Mercedes-Benz badge. With its 7,180 sales, Mercedes is ahead by 1,787. Minus Sprinter, Lexus leads, 201,769 to 196,376.
Some other interesting questions:
-- Will Toyota finish down in a rising market?
Opening up the incentives spigot to counter its recall hit, Toyota Motor sales rose 10 percent in the first half. But sales fell in four of the five subsequent months, and the company is up just 3,814 units from a year ago.
In a U.S. market that's up 11 percent, Toyota group is down 1.6 market share points so far this year. Toyota Motor hasn't lost market share since a negligible drop in 1999, and its worst annual loss, in 1983, was just over half a point. All year, Toyota brand boss Bob Carter has said Toyota would focus on retail sales instead of chasing fleet volume. Last week he attributed Toyota's 4 percent November slide to two factors:
Said Carter: "When we look at incentives available to fleet buyers, we have chosen not to participate."
- Overall truck sales were strong in November, which helped the Detroit 3 more than Toyota.
- Toyota fleet sales fell to 6 percent of its mix last month, from 10 percent last November.
Analyst Jesse Toprak of TrueCar.com, said: "Toyota has not been able to take advantage of this recovery in the marketplace. They've taken a hit in customer loyalty. And when you lose a customer when everybody else is making much better cars, you may never see them again."
-- Is GM gaining or losing?
It depends on what you count. In terms of total year-to-year comparisions -- including models GM sold in 2009 but doesn't offer now -- GM sales are up 7 percent through November, and its market share is down 0.8 of a point to 19 percent.
But the new GM prefers to focus on comparisons that involve only its four surviving brands. For just Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC, sales are up 23 percent.
November transaction prices for GM rose $1,300; most 2010 models have been cleared out; and leasing is up, says Jim Bunnell, GM dealer network boss.
He says "robust demand for pickups" shows that the construction industry and broader economy are shaking off their lethargy.
(Source: Automotive News, 12/06/10)
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