Chrysler continues to defy gravity while most sink in April

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By Jeremy Sinek

If this is a trend, it’s not a good one. With each passing month, 2012’s auto-sales recovery has lost steam. From a 15-per cent surge in January, the year-over-year gain slipped to 11 per cent in February, three per cent in March, and now we have a 1.4-per cent descent into negative territory in April.

And it’s not as if April 2011 were a particularly hard act to follow – in the overall scheme of things, it was strictly average. Which places this April’s count of 157,777 about 1,000 units below the 10-year average for the month. Still, there’s some mitigation in the fact that this April’s sales reports are based on two fewer selling days than April 2011.

While Chrysler continued its phoenix shtick with a three per cent uptick, and some smaller players had record months, declines by some of the largest players pulled down the overall market. Ford and General Motors sagged by 5.4 and 6.8 per cent respectively, for a net setback of 3.1 per cent for Detroit; and Toyota’s 3.1 per cent retreat more than offset Honda’s 4.3-per cent advance.

Overall, offshore-based automakers stood pat in April. Passenger cars (up 0.9 per cent) outperformed light trucks (down 3.4 per cent).

Chrysler continues to lead the market overall, helped along by the Fiat 500, of which it sold more than 1,000 units for the second month in a row. Indeed, sales of the little Italian have made the difference in keeping Windsor (just) in front of Ford for the year so far.

Hyundai went sideways in April but still outsold Honda for the month, and is less than 1,000 units short of doing so year-to-date, too. Kia, meanwhile, outsold both Mazda and Nissan in April, and in Mazda’s case is only 235 units shy of pulling the same stunt year-to-date.

Volkswagen also sold more vehicles in April than either Mazda or Nissan. Not for the first time this year, VW sold more copies of its new upsized Passat than Honda did Accords (and that includes the Accord Crosstour).

On the subject of intermediate sedans, April was a big month for the Chrysler 200 – it actually led the segment, in front even of the Toyota Camry, which itself was up 80 per cent. And just look at the Kia Optima. After a very slow start a year ago, the replacement for the marginal Magentis is now a significant player in the segment, with 1,663 sales in April alone (the subcompact Kia Rio also had its best month ever, in April).

In the compact segment, the Honda Civic continues to hold off the challenge from the Hyundai Elantra. To the extent that its total 2012 redesign has revived Ford Focus sales (up 21.3 per cent) it seems to be mostly at the expense of the Chevrolet Cruze (down 16.7 per cent).

An interesting factoid from Toyota: the 556 sales achieved by the new Prius c subcompact hybrid in April (its first full month) was more than the 418 copies of the original Prius that were sold in its first full year (2001). Overall the “Prius family,” which now also includes the Prius v wagon, notched up 1,422 sales in

April, almost six times last April’s sales of the Prius “classic.”

Total TCI hybrid sales reached 1,931 in April, a 266-per cent increase.

“Clearly hybrids have reached the mainstream,” noted TCI senior managing director, Tony Wearing.

Meanwhile Mercedes-Benz, enjoying its best April ever, reported a diesel-engine take rate of 79 per cent among its luxury SUVs that offer that option. Over at BMW, the fuel-efficient MINI brand had its best April ever even as BMW brand sales declined 6.0 per cent.

Still, not all buyers are motivated by fuel economy. In the process of achieving its 29th consecutive month of sales growth, Chrysler Canada reported best-ever monthly sales for both the Town & Country minivan and the Jeep Wrangler, while Ram pickup sales spiked 22 per cent to a new April record.