Automakers Report Higher Sales in May as Recovery Chugs Along

Automakers Report Higher Sales in May
Automakers Report Higher Sales in May

Ford Motor (F), General Motors and most other carmakers reported double-digit sales gains in May, as consumers helped maintain the busy sales pace sparked by an economic recovery and strong incentives offered by some manufacturers. Toyota Motor (TM) was the notable exception, recording a much smaller gain, as it continues to struggle with its recall woes.

Ford said it sales rose 23% last month on record sales for some of its vehicles, including its midsized Fusion sedan, as well as strong numbers for its line of F-Series pickup trucks. For the month, Ford said it sold 192,253 vehicles, marking its sixth straight month of 20%-plus sales gains. So far this year, the Dearborn, Mich., company has sold nearly 784,000 vehicles.

"Our results reflect Ford's balanced portfolio of products," said Ken Czubay, vice president of U.S. sales and marketing. The company has sold off its portfolio of European luxury brands to focus on its core Ford brand as part of larger plan to restructure the company.

In recent days, rumors swirled that the strategy of winnowing brands may result in Ford shutting down its venerable Mercury brand, which now markets just four vehicles -- two sedans and two SUVs. Indeed, at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Ford announced its decision to kill the Mercury brand.

GM: Revamped Vehicles Drive Growth

GM, meanwhile, said its sales rose 16.6% in May, driven by strong demand for its fresh line of crossover vehicles, as the resurgent automaker continues to rebound from last year's descent into bankruptcy. The first to report its sales figures Wednesday, the Detroit-based auto giant said it sold 223,822 vehicles last month, including its orphaned Saturn, Pontiac, Saab and Hummer brands.

Among its four remaining "core" nameplates, which include Buick, Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet, GM said it sold 222,305 cars and trucks, a 31.8% improvement over the 168,623 vehicles sold during the same period a year ago.

"Each of our brands has new products that are being received well by customers," said Steve Carlisle, GM's vice president of U.S. sales operations. "In fact, these new vehicles now account for about one in every four retail sales in the U.S. With each brand launching new vehicles in the next few months, we are optimistic about the remainder of the year."

In a conference call with analysts and reporters, Carlisle said the volatility that has roiled financial markets, while significant, "doesn't signal another collapse of the global economy or the vehicle industry." The impact on the U.S. economy from the turbulence within the 16-member eurozone countries "will essentially be neutral," he said, thanks to a stronger U.S. dollar and other economic factors.

Chrysler: Rebounding Well from Bankruptcy

The smallest of Detroit's automakers, Chrysler Group, outpaced its larger rivals by recording a 33% sales rise in May. Chrysler, now run by Italy's Fiat, sold 104,819 vehicles, marking the first time the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker sold more than 100,000 vehicles in a single month since March 2009.

"The company continues to show improvement each month, with May being our strongest month this year, exceeding overall industry growth for the second month in a row," said Chrysler sales chief Fred Diaz. Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy protection a year ago this month.

Recalls Hobble Toyota; All Smiles at Honda and Nissan

The story was different at Toyota, which reported a smaller 6.7% rise, selling slightly fewer than 163,000 units for the month, on the strength of its luxury Lexus nameplate. Overall, Lexus sales rose 31.3% for the month, driven by generous incentives offered to offset concern about the recent recall of its 2010 GX 460 upscale sports utility vehicle due to handling problems. Sales of the newly introduced large SUV more than doubled compared to last year, Toyota said.

Passenger car and truck sales at the namesake Toyota division rose just 3.6% to 140,597, despite heavy incentives such as zero-interest financing and cheap leases. Sales of Camry and Avalon family sedans slipped as much as 6.5%, while sales of Corolla compacts and Prius hybrids rose as much as 41%, Toyota said.

Sales at Honda Motor (HMC) rose 19.1% compared to a year ago. The Japanese automaker's U.S. sales unit said it sold 117,173 cars and trucks in May. Sales of the company's Accord family sedan, which competes against Toyota's Camry, rose 33%, making it Honda's top-selling vehicle. Luxury-brand Acura saw a 24.3% rise from a year ago, the company said. Overall, May marked the seventh straight month of sales improvement for Honda.

Nissan Motors, meanwhile, reported sales of Nissan and Infiniti brand vehicles in North America rose 24%, pushed higher by demand for passenger cars and the new Infiniti M luxury sedan, which saw sales perk up 62%. Overall, Nissan said, it sold 83,764 cars and trucks last month compared to 67,489 units a year earlier.

Korean, German Nameplates Boost Sales As Well

Among other Asian automakers, Subaru's American sales unit reported sales rose 35%, selling nearly 24,000 vehicles, making it the best May in the company's history. Year-to-date, Subaru said it has sold more than 100,000 vehicles in the U.S., well ahead of the 75,000-unit pace it set last year.

At South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor, sales rose 33%, compared to a year ago, to a total of 49,045 vehicles, it said. Double-digit sales growth for its recently redesigned Sonata and Tucson models led the sales gains for Hyundai, which recorded its 17th straight month of gains.

Hyundai's sister company, Kia Motors, reported sales rose 20.6% to 31,431 vehicles in May. The Sorento, the first Kia model to be built in the U.S., led the increase, the company's U.S. sales unit said.

Among German manufacturers, Daimler (DAI) reported sales of Mercedes-Benz vehicles rose 22.6%, while those of its Smart ultra-small commuter car fell nearly 41%. For the month, Daimler said it sold 19,871 vehicles in the U.S. At Volkswagen, sales rose 20.3% in May to 23,543 units, the company said. Leading the rise were popular models such as the Jetta SportWagen, which recorded a 56% increase in the number of units sold compared to a year ago.