With more than 30 different brands combining to sell over a million vehicles in the U.S. in September, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the avalanche of sales numbers that came tumbling down the mountainside a few days ago. All the automakers have their own stories to tell, all with their own spin, and many in direct contradiction to the claims of their rivals. But that being said, let’s try to get a handle on the state of the industry based on five particularly choice nuggets of information, which should help provide some much-needed context to all those numbers.
1. The Chevrolet Silverado Outsold and Outperformed the Entire Kia Brand in September
Hyundai gets most of the hype and a majority of the sales, but Kia is a vital factor in the success of the South Korean brands in the U.S., with more momentum now, too. Both brands set volume records in September, but Kia’s sales were up 18.4 percent last month and have risen 37.1 percent on a year-to-date basis, significantly ahead of Hyundai’s 12 percent and 20 percent increases from the same periods. Plus, Kia already has set a new annual sales benchmark, surpassing last year’s then-record volume, with three months remaining in 2011. But as impressive as all that sounds, the fact of the matter is that the Chevy Silverado—which isn’t even the best-selling pickup in the country—pulled sales up by 35.7 percent in September and delivered 43,698 units; the full Kia lineup was good for just 35,609 deliveries. That’s a 22.7 percent advantage for the Silverado.
2. Sales of the 2012 Volkswagen Passat Improved by 455 Percent Last Month
With deliveries up 55.4 percent in September and 70 percent on a year-to-date basis, the all-new Volkswagen Jetta is clearly proving naysayers wrong in the compact segment. Redesigning the car to appeal to more American buyers has obviously done just that, as evidenced by the way the Jetta has become a fixture on this year’s list of top 20 bestsellers. But now the company is out to prove the first fruits of its America-first strategy are more than just a fluke, and it’s so far, so good with the midsize Passat—albeit in a limited sample size. With availability for the new Passat still ramping up, VW dealers sold 3,176 units in September as compared to 572 during the same period last year. Obviously, the Passat has a much tougher climb ahead of it than the Jetta did, but hey, it’s already managed to climb over the Subaru Legacy in September volume.
3. Chrysler Retail Sales Were up 50 Percent
Sure, a nice chunk of it was due to the Chrysler Group’s abysmal numbers in September of 2010, but it’s still hard to argue with the automaker’s 50 percent jump in retail sales last month. And even though the same kind of special pleading is required for its overall 2011 sales growth, the bottom line is that the Chrysler Group has posted by far the quickest growth of any “domestic” automaker this year both in September and for the year to date. Chrysler was up 27 percent in September and 23 percent YTD, while GM is at 19.6 percent and 16.1 percent, and Ford shows marks of 9 percent and 11.4 percent. And we’re talking about some serious volume, too. The Chrysler Group trailed only Ford and General Motors in overall sales last month; the flipside of this being that the automaker bested Toyota, Honda, Nissan and the combined Hyundai/Kia duo. And remember, all this is occurring at a time when the only small cars in the automaker’s lineup are the Dodge Caliber and FIAT 500.
4. Every Single Car from the Honda and Toyota Brands Posted a Sales Decline
It was a close call in some cases, as the Honda Fit and Toyota Avalon each witnessed sales declines of 1.2 percent, but a lot of big names took big hits in September. Major sales drops were reported by the Toyota Corolla (-23.3 percent), Toyota Camry (-19.2 percent), Toyota Prius (-18.2 percent), Honda Civic (-26.4 percent) and Honda Accord (-13.8 percent). And remember, both the Civic and the Camry are all-new models. Further, neither brand was able to recoup volume by riding the current trend back toward big trucks. Honda doesn’t sell any, and Toyota didn’t sell many. While Ford, GM, Chrysler and even Nissan rang up some relatively healthy gains with body-on-frame vehicles, the only such vehicles in the black at Toyota were the Toyota 4Runner, up .5 percent, and the Toyota Land Cruiser, which pushed sales northward by 21.1 percent but only delivered 132 units.
5. Nissan Outsells Honda
In stark contrast to the performances of Honda and Toyota, sales of Nissan vehicles climbed a further 28.2 percent in September, with both the Nissan Versa and Nissan Altima doing the heavy lifting. The former leveraged the introduction of its all-new sedan model to lift deliveries 68.1 percent on a volume of 11,800 units—27.4 percent more than the combined sales of the next two subcompacts—while the Altima’s 21.7 percent increase brought its volume up to 24,356 units, which trailed the Camry by just 495 sales. As a result, Nissan, a company many thought would be relegated out of the top tier of the U.S. industry by Hyundai/Kia, out sold both the South Koreans and the Honda/Acura combine in September. Toyota, obviously, would be the next name for Nissan to leapfrog, and as unlikely as that sounds, consider: In September of 2010, the Toyota division sold 80,259 cars to Nissan’s 48,024. Flash forward to last month, and the gap has closed from more than 32,000 units to just 5,412.