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U.S. Auto Sales Downshift in August

Sales of automobiles stalled in August, dropping a staggering 21% from this time last year.

The dramatic falloff in auto sales for the month of August—just shy of 1 million units—was the worst in 27 years, according to industry watcher Autodata. What’s more, auto sales were also down from July—a month that saw a 5% decrease in sales. Automotive industry analysts were looking for an uptick in sales, based on a) a carryover in momentum from June to July; and b) the fact that August is traditionally a strong month for sales activity. That outlook, however, was trumped by the fact that many consumers are still skittish about big-ticket purchases such as automobiles given the weak economic recovery and the uncertain jobs outlook.

Following is a snapshot of how automotive manufacturers fared last month, compared to August 2009:

Audi: up 14%
BMW (including MINI): down 1.6%
Chrysler: up 7%
GM: down 25%
Ford: down 11%
Honda: down 33%
Hyundai: down 27%
Kia Motors: down 19%
Mercedes: up 15%
Mitsubishi Motors: down 37%
Nissan: down 27%
Toyota: down 34%
Volkswagen: down 8%

Given the boost provided by last year’s popular “Cash for Clunkers” program—which lifted sales to the tune of $3 billion in August 2009—some manufacturers were not altogether surprised by the poor industry-wide performance a year later.

“Last year’s Cash for Clunkers program spiked industry sales in 2009, so results this August were, not surprisingly, a bit mixed,” said Don Johnson, vice president, U.S. Sales Operations. “Importantly, three of our four divisions showed solid gains. This is further evidence that our performance is the result of balanced contributions across our brands.”

The fact that GM has four fewer brands than it did a year ago also played into the results, Johnson noted. August sales for Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac—for remaining four “core” brands—decreased by a combined 11 percent to 184,921 units, compared to last August. Compared to July 2010, sales for GM’s brands were down 7 percent.

Through August, Buick remained the industry’s fastest-growing brand with sales up 61 percent year to date. Cadillac leads the luxury vehicle industry in sales growth this year, with sales 50 percent higher through August. Combined sales for Buick, GMC and Cadillac were up 37 percent for the month, compared to a year ago. Buick sales increased 66 percent, propelled by retail sales that more than doubled during the month. Cadillac dealers reported sales that were 83 percent higher than last year, and the brand’s retail sales also rose 83 percent.

GMC total sales were up 12 percent during the month, driven by strong retail sales. Chevrolet, which benefited the most from last year’s federal stimulus, had a total sales decline of 22 percent compared to last year, while retail sales were down 31 percent. Total sales of GM’s full-size pickups rose 4 percent during the month, while its full-size utilities increased 7 percent on strong retail sales growth.
 

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Automotive  •  Industry Trends & Happenings

 

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