May Sales Surprise: Dodge Avenger Up 152 Percent
Okay, this is getting a bit ridiculous. Dodge, after tying with the Chrysler division for best year-over-year April sales performance, took the title outright this month, thanks to a May sales jump of 72.7 percent over the same time last year. Setting the pace for Chrysler's "forever young" division was the Dodge Avenger, ringing up a healthy 152 percent increase in May sales.
The Chrysler Group as a whole was up nearly 33 percent, with all brands improving and 10 individual vehicle nameplates achieving double-digit growth on the month. Impressively, these results came in some of the industry's most important segments. Among midsize sedans, the Chrysler Sebring added a 42 percent bump to the Avenger's figures; the Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot, were up 154 percent and 30 percent, respectively, in the crossover segments; and both the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan more than doubled their sales volume against rival minivans.
Yet the Chrysler numbers were just one facet of the bigger story in May, and that was the performance of the U.S.-based automakers as a whole. The top brand from the Japanese Big Three was Lexus, notching a nice 31 percent May increase. But beyond this, and in addition to Chrysler and Dodge, every one of the GM core brands'”Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC'”along with the Ford division, finished ahead of every other division from Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
Some of the other highlights: That GM foursome achieved a combined 32 percent May sales improvement, again showcasing spectacular numbers from its medium crossovers. The Cadillac SRX took another 654 percent leap northwards (and is ahead 493 percent on the year), the Chevrolet Equinox moved ahead by 256 percent and the GMC Terrain, which wasn't on sale in May 2009, contributed another 5,132 sales to GM's bottom line.
The Buick LaCrosse continued its very strong year as well, with a 212 percent bounce for the month on its way to a 214 percent increase for the year to date.
Likely a reflection of lower-than-expected gas prices so far this year, a number of GM body-on-frame SUVs saw triple-digit growth, including the Cadillac Escalade ESV (up 52 percent), the Chevrolet Suburban (ahead 100.6 percent) and the GMC Yukon XL (jumping 201 percent).
That also helps explain the 49 percent boost in May sales for the Ford F-150, which, in turn, was the key to Ford's 22.9 percent sales improvement for the month. Without the big pickup, and although the Ford Taurus also saw a nice 98 percent May increase, it sure seems like some of the bloom is coming off the Blue Oval's rose. The Ford Flex continues to struggle, and a number of other Ford division products are simply keeping pace with the growth of the industry as a whole.
And then there's Lincoln and Mercury. While the latter has officially attained "dead brand walking" status, it might surprise some people to know Mercury outsold Lincoln last month, and is ahead of the Ford luxury brand on a year-to-date basis as well. Which isn't any kind of argument for keeping Mercury, mind you; but it does provide a clue to how much work Ford has to do with Lincoln.
Now, as I mentioned, the results for the big Japanese OEMs made for a stark contrast with those of their U.S. competitors, especially when looking at their high-volume brands. The Toyota division managed a bare 3.6 percent sales improvement, way off the industry's overall 19 percent gain, and the Honda brand also underperformed the industry, seeing only an 18.6 percent rise in sales.
Nissan, perhaps basking in the glow of buzz around its LEAF electric vehicle, certainly did better, reaping big sales numbers from the Nissan Versa, moving ahead 95.6 percent, the Nissan Sentra, gaining a 60 percent boost, and Nissan Altima, up 31.5 percent. Also, mimicking the results for GM's big SUVs, the Nissan Armada racked up an 89.4 percent sales improvement.
The big twist from the Japanese companies was that Mazda put up a surprising 35.2 percent increase in May sales, a fraction of a percent ahead of Subaru and trailing just Dodge, Cadillac and Buick among individual nameplates.
I'm not sure why customers have suddenly started responding to what's been a high-quality lineup for a while now, but the Mazda MAZDA3 attained a 53.8 percent improvement in sales, the Mazda MAZDA6 gained 29.9 percent compared to May 2009 and both of the company's crossovers, the Mazda CX-7 and Mazda CX-9, found over 40 percent more buyers this May as compared to last.
I also need to mention Hyundai and Kia, up about 33 percent and 21 percent, respectively, in terms of May numbers. Those results are certainly positive, but are noticeably less positive when compared to the domestics than was the case during the meltdown
The bottom line: With Chrysler about to start launching its first post-meltdown products, GM already doing so (see the Buick Regal), and Ford freeing up significant resources to boost Lincoln and the Ford division proper, expect foreign automakers to encounter increasingly tough going through the rest of the year and beyond.