Although the overall economic picture may look bleak, October was a good month for many car manufacturers. Automakers said October's Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) was the best of the year, at roughly 13.5 million including medium- and heavy-duty trucks, up from 13.2 million in September. Ford and GM cited somewhat encouraging job growth and looser credit for stronger sales. Chrysler in particular had two big hits in with Ram trucks and the Jeep Wrangler in particular, and Ford's Explorer is exploding out of the gate with huge year-to-year gains.
It's like malaise; only it looks pretty good next to 2008.
That means that seasonally, Octobers never are terribly good for selling cars and trucks. Another anomaly is that General Motors' sales rose just 2 percent, though the automaker held on to its 19.4 percent market share, which is up roughly one point for the year to date.
This is the type of confusion car sales numbers cause. That 2 percent increase compares October 2011 with October 2010, of course, and SAAR numbers don't really mean anything by the time you get actual annual numbers.
What the GM numbers mean is that GM has found its natural level, just under 20 percent share. Chevy sales were up slightly while every other division was off slightly. Buick, for one, ended a long streak of year-over-year gains as it sold down the last of its outdated products, the Lucerne, and built on the Enclave, LaCrosse and Regal. GM says Cadillac struggled amidst a strong product and marketing attack from BMW.
Other news outlets have trumpeted Chrysler Group's "sensational" 27 percent sales hike, but that's compared with a very lean 2010 number. Last year, Chrysler was slowly getting back on its feet and trying to hang on to a base number of sales as it got production levels back up. Most of its new or refreshed product was still a month or more off. A 27 percent hike looks good until you consider that Chrysler was the number-five automaker in October '10, somehow keeping ahead of Honda last year.
That's not to detract from Chrysler's success this year. It has managed to reach a five-figure number for its midsize Chrysler 200, and Jeep and Ram pickup sales are strong. You're getting a pretty good indication of how well the top six or seven automakers will do going forward, though Honda will continue to have shortages because of the Thai floods. Hyundai and Kia will continue to eat into competitors' market share, and based on a strong start-of-production month for the VW Passat, I think that car could get into the top-five list of midsize cars. Which midsize will it dethrone?
This remains far more important for the U.S. market than competition in the compact class. Forget what GM and Ford say about us moving to c-segment cars, like the Europeans. In October, the top-five bestselling midsize cars outsold the top-five bestselling compacts by a margin of 41.2 percent. That's up from a 28.3 percent margin in September, which admittedly was closer than August's 34.5 percent. But in July, when gas prices were still about $4 per gallon in most parts of the country, the gap between the top five-bestselling compacts and midsize cars was just 22.8 percent, with the d-segment cars always leading the c-cars.
With EPA fuel mileage numbers pretty close, mostly in the 30s for both midsize and compact highway figures, price in the current economy has had a bigger effect than fuel efficiency in getting more families into compact cars. Compacts like the Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus cost about as much as a mid-trim level midsize five or six years ago. So it's no surprise that compact crossover utilities, from the ancient Ford Escape to the fairly new Chevy Equinox are doing well. The bestsellers in the category, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 have been in very short supply since the Japanese earthquake. Americans looking for a bargain are choosing to pay midsize sedan prices for an Equinox or Nissan Rogue, to get the kind of roominess and versatility that makes c-segment hatchbacks so popular with Western European families.
By the way, you can read my sales reporting day updates and other breaking auto industry news by following me on Twitter at MT_Lassa.
And so, to the numbers ...
1. GM: 186,895, up 2 percent.
*Camaro up 22.1 percent, to 6,119, versus Mustang, off 7.9 percent, to 4,898, versus Challenger, off 3 percent to 3,097.
*Chevy Cruze was up more than 104 percent versus Cruze and Cobalt in October '10, to 14,295.
*Equinox outsold it, though, at 15,108, up 18.3 percent.
*Chevy Malibu was off 17.1 percent, to 10,239.
*Chevy sold 3,833 of its new Sonics, 116 Caprices to cop shops and 2,140 Captiva Sports to fleets.
Chevy sold 1,108 Volts, for 5,003 to date. GM sales chief Don Johnson maintains his prediction that Volt sales will total 10,000 by the end of the year. Just 4,997 to go in two months.
*Chevy Silverado, at 36,656, up 6.9 percent, plus GMC Sierra, up 2.9 percent, at 13,362, combined for 50,018, still short of Ford F-Series.
*GMC overall was off 4.6 percent, to 31,609.
*Buick was off 7 percent, to 11,687. Regal was its only gainer, up 39.6 percent, to 2,281.
*Cadillac was off 11.9 percent, to 11,795. Its only gainer was the SRX, up 12.7 percent, to 4,984. Despite heavy advertising, CTS sales fell 7.6 percent, to 3,918.
2. Ford Motor Company: 167,803 up 6.2 percent.
*Ford brand totaled 161,709, up 12.6 percent.
*That means Lincoln struggled at 6,094, down 10.8 percent.
*F-Series had a great month, at 52,511, up 7.1 percent.
*Fusion again was the bestselling domestic midsize sedan, at 18,094, up 4.2 percent.
*The aged, soon-to-be-replaced Escape remained one of Ford's strongest non-truck models, up 30.6 percent, to 19,046.
*Explorer was up 224.7 percent over the old body-on-frame model year ago to-date, with 11,987 sold. That compares with 7,197 Chevy Traverses, off 12.8 percent, and just 1,910 Ford Flexes, off 6.2 percent.
*Focus was off 0.1 percent, to 12,386.
*Lincoln MKZ was up 5.6 percent, to 1,953, and MKX was up 5.4 percent, to 1,765, though MKS was off 9.6 percent, to 981 and MKT slid 27.1 percent, to 369.
3. Toyota-Scion-Lexus: 134,046, off 6.8 percent.
*Camry was off 9.5 percent, to 22,043 as production of the new model continued to ramp up.
*Corolla was off 9.5 percent, to 16,244. Toyota says this model was among those most affected by parts shortages due to the Japanese earthquake.
*Prius was off 2.6 percent, to 11,008 and included a couple of Prius-vs sold near the end of the month.
*Tundra was off 6.1 percent, to 6,496.
*RAV4 freefell 24.5 percent, to 10,680 units in October.
*Lexus division was off 10.9 percent, to 18,092. The brand's "December to Remember" annual sales "event" began November 1. That's a long December.
*RX, Lexus' bestseller, was off 18.9 percent, to 6,681.
*ES was off 13.3 percent, to 4,300.
*IS was off 11.4 percent, to 2,640.
4. Chrysler Group: 114,512, up 27 percent.
*The 200 was a strong seller, at 11,205 versus 2,221 Sebrings last year.
*Ram pickup remains Mopar's bestseller, up 21 percent to 21,037.
*Though Grand Cherokee was Jeep's bestseller at 11,084, off 13 percent, Wrangler continues to sell well, up 25 percent to 9,892.
*Town & Country was off 25 percent, to 6,338.
*Avenger was Dodge's bestseller, at 7,136, up 145 percent. Caravan was off 13 percent, to 7,100.
*Dodge Journey was up 36 percent, to 5,028.
*Fiat sold 1,965 500s, for 15,826 year-to-date.
5. American Honda: 98,333, off 0.5 percent.
*Accord was up 9.4 percent, to 22,589, edging Toyota Camry by 546 units.
*Civic was off 1.9 percent, to 16,173, which was 71 units below the Toyota Corolla.
*Odyssey was up 8.6 percent, to 10,415.
*Acura sales rose 4.8 percent, to 11,115.
*MDX was off 2.8 percent, to 3,691.
*TSX was up 37.3 percent, to 2,977, and 259 were wagons. Of 24,698 TSXes sold this year, 2,691 have been wagons.
6. Nissan North America: 82,346, up 18 percent.
*Despite several strong months in a row, Nissan has been unable to catch shortage-plagued Honda.
*Altima was up 15.1 percent, to 21,838.
*Rogue recorded a strong 10,034, up 13.2 percent.
*Sales of the new Versa sedan reached 8,889 in its second full month.
*Leaf sales totaled 849 for the month, 8,066 for the year so far.
*Infiniti sales accounted for 6,862, off 13.5 percent.
7. Hyundai: 52,402, up 23 percent.
*Hyundai already has passed 2010's full-year sales of 538,228, with sales of 545,316 through October.
*Sonata was up 3.9 percent, to 18,192.
*Elantra was up 37 percent, to 13,000.
*Combined with Kia, the company sold 90,092, good for sixth place.
8. Kia: 37,690, up 21 percent.
*Kia sold 8,616 Optimas, versus 1,630 at model changeover in October '10.
*Forte sales slipped 18.1 percent, to 4,712.
*Sorento slipped 4 percent, to 10,178, though Soul was up 15.8 percent, to 7,109.
9. Volkswagen of America: 28,028, up 39.6 percent.
*New Passat sales of 5,040, best month for the midsize car since December 2005.
*Jetta was up 9.1 percent, to 13,058,with 1,709 of those wagons.
*Diesels accounted for 20.5 percent of all VW sales in October.
10. BMW Group: 27,288, up 17.5 percent.
*Mini sold 5,415, up 37.1 percent, including 2,012 Countrymen. Countrymans?
*BMW X5 was up 25.6 percent, to 3,997 and X3 was up 2,244 percent, to 2,321.
*BMW brand sold 21,873, up 13.5 percent
11. Mercedes-Benz: 24,449, up 28.2 percent.
*Benz highest U.S. October on record.
*Bestseller C-Class was up 87.9 percent, to 7,084.
*M-Class was up 44.8 percent on the strength of the new model, to 4,091.
*E-Class was off 18.9 percent, to 4,516.
*Mercedes sold 1,485 Sprinter vans, up 104.8 percent, and 327 Smart Fortwos.
12. Subaru: 20,081, off 11.6 percent.
*Subaru says its production levels are back up.
*Bestselling Outback was up 2.3 percent, to 8,891.
*Forester was off 18.9 percent, to 5,385.
*Undergoing model changeover, Impreza was off 45.8 percent, to 1,993.
13. Mazda: 18,326 up 1.7 percent.
*Mazda3 was off 8.4 percent, to 7,095.
*Mazda6 was up 38.8 percent, to 3,438.
*CX-7 was up 13 percent, to 2,807.
*CX-9 fell 1.3 percent, to 2,465.
14. Audi: 10,225, up 25.8 percent.
*A4 sales rose 5.8 percent to 2,613, edging out Q5 at 2,610, up 24.3 percent.
*A5 was up 21.5 percent, to 1,394.
*A6 was up 43.9 percent, to 1,186, on the strength of the new model.
15. Mitsubishi: 4,378, off 14 percent.
*Bestseller Lancer was off 19.6 percent, to 1,064. Lancer Sportback was of 40 percent, to 75, and EVO was off 11.2 percent, to 166.
17. Porsche: 2,270 off 14 percent.
*Cayenne off 9 percent, to 1,032.
*Panamera was off 18 percent, to 611.
18. American Suzuki: 1,947, off 5 percent.
*SX4 continues to lead, at 945, off 5 percent.
*Kizashi was off 18 percent, to 480.
Jaguar/Land Rover: N/A.
Saab Cars North America: N/A.