U.S. Auto Sales Strong in May Despite Slow Economy

June 1, 2012
With the strong May performance, analysts expect total sales to reach 14.5 million in 2012, up from 12.8 million last year.

Chrysler and Volkswagen (IW 1000/10) posted nearly 30% sales increases for May on Friday and Toyota (IW 1000/5) rebounded 87% from its earthquake-forced shutdown a year ago as Detroit proved resistant to the slow U.S. economy.

Ford (IW 500/6), General Motors (IW 500/5) and Nissan (IW 1000/29) also reported double-digit increases as May's figures for the U.S. auto market jumped beyond the forecasts of analysts and carmakers.

"In spite of a tremendous amount of global economic uncertainty, the U.S. new vehicle sales industry continues to power ahead," said Reid Bigland, Chrysler's U.S. sales chief.

"Our May sales increased 30% and represented our 26th consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth. We are also in the process of adding production capacity as quickly as possible to meet strong demand for our products," he said.

GM, the largest U.S. carmaker, said sales increased 11% from May 2011, hitting 245,256 units, the highest monthly total since August 2009 when sales were enhanced by the government's recession-beating "Cash for Clunkers" program.

Buick and GMC both reported sales increases of 19% and Chevrolet was up 10%.

"GM's sales in May were the highest in almost three years and we are poised to keep delivering good news for the U.S. economy with one of the most aggressive new product offenses in our history," said GM's U.S. sales head Don Johnson.

Small and compact cars were up 16% in May versus a year ago, driven by the new Chevrolet Sonic, which had sales of 7,205 units, and the new Buick Verano, with 3,609 units.

Every GM brand but Cadillac, where the launch of two new models is pending as it sells down older ones, has posted a year-over-year increase, something not seen in recent months, noted Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs.

Japanese carmaker Toyota, which recovered its position as global number one recently after two dark years, turned in a spectacular rebound from a year ago, when sales had evaporated due to the March 2011 earthquake-tsunami disaster that cut off supplies of vehicles and parts.

Toyota sold 202,973 units in the U.S. market in May, up 87.3% from a year earlier.

Ford sold 216,267 vehicles in May, a 13% increase. Retail (non-fleet) sales increased 12%. Overall, cars were up 6%, utilities were up 12%, and trucks improved 21%.

"Fuel efficiency continues to be a top purchaser driver, and Ford's wide range of fuel-efficient products delivered again," said Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president of U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service.

Nissan North America sold 91,794 units, up 20.5% from 2011. Infiniti sales finished the month up 65.8%, with 10,592 units sold.

The strong May performance now has analysts expecting total sales for 2012 to reach 14.5 million, up from 12.8 million last year.

"Sales are continuing to rebound and consumers are feeling more comfortable buying highly contented vehicles," said Jesse Toprak, VP of Industry Trends and Insights for TrueCar.com.

"Consumers are not just buying cars, but they're paying fuller prices."

"Toyota and Honda not only recovered from the last year's dip in sales but also had their highest transaction prices ever in May, showing that they were able to recapture consumer interest in their products," added Toprak.

Even so, a little bit of extra money on the hood seemed to help GM.

Edmunds.com estimates GM's incentives for buyers were up about 5% from last May and about 2% from April.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012

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