Total U.S. light vehicle sales in January slid just below analysts’ forecasts of 1.05 million units. With 25 selling days last month – the same number as January 2007 – automaker sales figures reached just 1.04 million units, a decline of 4.3 percent over the same period last year.
The market was split nearly 50/50, with traditional domestic brands taking 50.6 percent market share and international brands grabbing the remaining 49.4 percent. International brand sales suffered a 4.3 percent loss in sales as compared to the same month last year. This follows a 1.2 percent decline in December 2007 over the year ago month.
Either way you slice the pie, automakers of all sizes and budgets will be keeping their eyes on the months ahead as Q1 is likely to be the best indicator of the direction 2008 will take for the industry.
Race for No. 1
While Automotive News declared recently that Toyota topped General Motors as the best-selling automaker in the world, America remains a different story. General Motors is holding onto its sales lead, with a 2.6 percent rise in sales last month. Meanwhile, Toyota is keeping pace at the No. 2 spot with 171,849 units sold, despite dropping 2.3 percentage points after its luxury brand, Lexus, suffered a sluggish sales month. Ford, down 3.9 percent, stuck it out in the No. 3 spot. Chrysler took fourth place with 137,392 units sold, marking a drop of 12.1 percent for the month.
Passenger Cars on the Move
In a company release, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. President Jim Lentz commented, “On the product front, the migration toward passenger cars dovetails nicely with February’s launch of the all-new Corolla and Matrix.” And perhaps Lentz has a point. All things considered, the car versus truck category is likely headed for a 50/50 split as well. Drivers flocked to yet more passenger cars in January, which helped the category as whole rise another percentage point to take 47.5 percent of the market. Leading the way for passenger cars in January were the following models, in rank order from 1-5: 1) Toyota Camry/Hybrid (31,601 units); 2) Honda Accord/Hybrid (23,957 units); 3) Nissan Altima/Hybrid (21,635 units); 4) Honda Civic/Hybrid (20,993 units); and, 5) Toyota Corolla/Matrix (20,736 units). Chevy Impala ranked sixth, followed by the Chevy Cobalt at No. 7, the much-acclaimed Chevy Malibu in ninth place, and the Pontiac G6 at No. 10. Toyota Prius came in just behind the Ford Focus as the 11th best-selling car in America, with sales up 37.1 percent as compared to January 2007.
Mazda and Mercedes-Benz Reach Record January
Two of the brighter spots from the international side last month were Mazda and Mercedes-Benz, up 10.1 percent and 7.0 percent, respectively. Both brands’ light truck divisions performed exceedingly well. Pick-me-up sales of the newly reintroduced MAZDA5 multi-activity vehicle, recently revamped for 2008, played a key role for the automaker last month, bringing in 1,699 units en route to Mazda’s best January in 14 years. Strong demand for Mercedes-Benz SUVs and coupes helped it reach the best January sales in company history. As a group, sales of Mercedes-Benz SUVs rose 23.1 percent (6,167 vs. 5,011 units), boosted by an M-Class sales increase of 37.7 percent (3,237 vs. 2,351 units). The R-Class also contributed to the momentum with sales of 1,005 units, a 19.9 percent increase over last January. The C-Class model line was the volume leader for Mercedes-Benz with sales of 4,647 units, up 18.3 percent over last January.
See below for a complete breakdown of January 2008 monthly and calendar-year-to-date sales by international nameplate.