Auto Sales Hold Steady in February

First Up 03/04/13

March 4, 2013

Auto Sales Hold Steady in February
Despite serious economic headwinds, AIADA’s Market Watch reports that auto sales were steady in February. Higher social security taxes, the sequestration battle in Washington, and rising gas prices couldn’t prevent Americans from buying new vehicles last month. In total, manufacturers sold 1,192,249 vehicles in February. Toyota’s Toyota, Scion, and Lexus brands were up 4.3 percent, Hyundai’s sales were up 2.3 percent, and Volkswagen’s brands were up 8.4 percent. Honda sales fell 2.3 percent, and Nissan sales were down 7.2 percent. Ford and GMC saw sales rise 10.9 and 9.8 percent, respectively, primarily on the strength of truck purchases. “Sales were solid, if not spectacular, in February,” said AIADA President Cody Lusk. “Last month’s results show us that the auto industry’s growth is stable, and capable of withstanding some economic speed bumps.” Market share for international nameplate brands in February dipped slightly to 53.4 percent from the 54.4 percent share they captured in January and 55.3 percent in December. AutoData Corp. estimated the seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) at 15.38 million units, versus 14.5 million units one year ago. Sales for all brands, unadjusted for business days, were up 3.7 percent from January 2012, and 14.3 percent from January 2013. Read more of AIADA’s February Market Watch here.

AutoNation Adds 3 to Brand Plan
Some luxury brands are giving AutoNation Inc., the country's largest auto retailer, the OK to put the AutoNation brand name on their dealerships. However, continued reluctance about retailer branding from German manufacturers, in particular may keep AutoNation's branding strategy from spreading to the rest of its network and throughout the industry. Since announcing on Jan. 31 that it will rename its 160 domestic and mass-market import-brand stores, AutoNation has received the blessing of three luxury brands: Acura, Volvo, and Infiniti. Those brands account for 11 more stores, two of which already have adopted the AutoNation moniker. The rest will be renamed by early June. But AutoNation has not formally asked other luxury brands, including its largest, Mercedes-Benz. AutoNation has 17 Mercedes-Benz stores. If other retailers pursue branding, they would likely have to agree to more stringent manufacturer guidelines, reports Automotive News. Acura put additional requirements on AutoNation in exchange for branding approval, said John Mendel, American Honda Motor Co. executive vice president. Read more about AutoNation’s push to brand its dealerships here.

The Fast and the Frugal: Europe's Woes Put Focus on Small Cars
You know Europe's economy is in the tank when the Swiss – a nation of bankers and millionaires fleeing high taxes at home – line up to check out a bunch of new compact, subcompact, and hybrid cars. According to The Detroit Free Press, that'll be the scene in Geneva this week as the auto show famous for catering to the rich and famous faces economic reality. "Last year was bad, this year will be worse and there's no end in sight" as Europe's automakers deal with falling sales, overcapacity and ongoing economic crisis, said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with "Europe's had these problems for years, but nothing's been fixed. Europe's in the same mess the U.S. was in 2008 to '10, only worse because there's no single government in charge, and there are so many more companies and unions involved." The 2013 Geneva auto show will host an array of small, frugal models tailored to Europe's economic misery. From the tiny VW XL1 that aims to be the world's most fuel-efficient car to the Ford EcoSport mini-crossover and a Peugeot hybrid that literally runs on air, European automakers are girding for a long recession. Read more about what to expect from this year’s Geneva auto show here.

Toyota Reports Sales Up 4.8% in February
After months of spectacular gains, Toyota nudged its way ahead in February with a sales gain of 4.3 percent over the same month last year. That was down from the double-digit gains of recent months as it recovered from the Japanese tsunami in 2011 to regain sales and market share, and reclaim its status as the world's largest automaker. But the rise was in line with February sales results being reported by other makers across the industry today. "Despite rising gas prices, severe winter storms and concerns about the federal budget, February was a good indication of the overall strength of the market," Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division, said in a statement, adding, "We're encouraged by very positive consumer reaction to our new Avalon and RAV4." According to USA Today, the company credited positive launches for the redesigned Avalon big sedan and redone RAV4 compact SUV for helping to boost the month's sales, and said it sees 2013 industry sales continuing to show strength. Lexus saw a 60 percent increase in sales of its redone ES and LS sedans, but declines in sales of several other of its car models. Click here for more on Toyota’s sales progress.

Obama Rounds Out Cabinet with EPA, Energy Picks
President Barack Obama will announce today his intent to nominate air quality expert Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy, a White House official said. The long-awaited announcement will come as Obama fills out his second term cabinet. Obama appears to have delayed some cabinet appointments, whose names were well known for weeks, until after the deadline for massive spending cuts known as "sequestration." Obama and congressional leaders failed to reach an agreement to delay those cuts on Friday, threatening other policy priorities in the president's second term agenda. One of those priorities is fighting climate change, an issue Obama raised prominently in both his inaugural and State of the Union addresses earlier this year. Obama has urged Congress to embrace a market-based mechanism to reduce climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, or face executive action from his administration to achieve the same goal. According to Reuters, McCarthy would likely become the face of that climate change push, which may involve greater regulation of power plant emissions. Currently the assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, she would replace Lisa Jackson, who has stepped down as EPA chief. Click here for more on President Obama’s final nominees.

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