Detroit pulls its weight but offshore brands pull January sales back

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One month does not make a trend, but still, January’s new-vehicle market does provide some pointers that bear watching as the year evolves.

At face value, the fact that overall sales slipped 2.2 percent from January 2012 is a little disappointing considering that this January’s tally was based on one more selling day than 2012’s. Then again, last January was a particularly strong one, and a hard act to follow; in the big picture, this January’s count of 95,306 cars and light trucks was still comfortably above the previous-10-year average of about 88,000.

The real take-away from January, though, was the come-back by Detroit. Each of the former Big Three grew their sales in January for a combined advance of 5.6 percent. That left the offshore-based automakers dragging their heels by a cumulative 8.8 percent. And the offshore retreat was very much a team effort: not just the Japanese (down 12.3 percent combined) but also – more unusually --the Europeans (-4.6 percent) and even the Koreans (-1.9 percent).

Among the offshore companies, only Mazda, Jaguar Land Rover and Porsche recorded sales gains.
Ford posted the strongest growth among the Detroit Three, up 8.1 percent, but that wasn’t enough to prevent Chrysler Canada (up 2.7 percent) from topping the sales charts for the second January in a row.  GM Canada remained a fairly distant third despite hiking its sales 6.2 percent.

It shows how far Detroit has fallen, though, that even after a bounce-back like this, the Americans’ combined market share still remained mired below 50 percent – 49.2 percent, to be precise.

The light-truck share of the market rose to 59 percent from 58 percent a year ago, largely on the strength of full-size pickup sales: a 24.4-percent surge for Dodge Ram powered it past the GM pickups (up 12.7 percent) for second place among the top-selling models, while a gain of “only” 9.6 percent kept the Ford F-Series at the top of the tree.

Paradoxically, overall the Detroit makers grew their car sales (up 11 percent) more than light trucks (4.1 percent). GM enjoyed a big jump in small-car sales but the main driver of that trend was Ford, which topped the midsize segment with an 84-percent spike for the just-renewed Fusion.

Honda was the big spoiler among the Japanese. In the midst of an early “mid”-cycle refresh, Civic sales crashed by almost 50 percent. That dragged the Honda brand down 26.5 percent (and Honda Canada down 21.2 percent after factoring in a growth month for Acura). The Civic disaster dropped it to an unfamiliar seventh position in the top sellers chart and let the Hyundai Elantra (now reinforced by hatchback and coupe models and up 23.2 percent) claim the top-selling car crown; even the Toyota Corolla was only 40 units shy of also outselling the Civic.

Speaking of Toyota, the leading offshore brand fingered a model change for most of its 12.5-percent decline: “A key factor … was a shortage of RAV4 inventory, in advance of the mid-February launch of the all-new 2013 RAV4,” Toyota Canada said in a prepared statement.

Among newcomers to the market, the Chevrolet Trax completed its first full month with 260 sales; the new-generation Mazda6 started deliveries mid-month and propelled that nameplate to a 118-percent vault; the redesigned Toyota Avalon almost tripled its sales in its first full month; and the debut of the new AWD Carrera 4 drove Porsche 911 sales to a January record.