Smooth Sailing For Smaller Cars, Crossovers

Despite a strong headwind from record fuel prices and dropping home values, several automakers managed to tack last month, making sales gains with smaller cars and crossovers.

Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai and Kia were among the automakers reporting gains last month, with Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Mercedes, Honda and Kia reporting their best November to date, and Hyundai its second best. Ford, which is rolling out smaller cars and crossovers, made headway with the Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX, Ford Fusion and Focus.

Ford sales were slightly up versus last November. It was the company's first month of sales increases after 12 months of sales declines, although through that period the company has had a strong response to new, smaller and car-based products. The company, which sold 182,951 vehicles last month, said sales of its crossovers were up 119% versus last year.

The company's focus on in-vehicle telematics and its Sync venture with Microsoft seems to be working. The new Ford Focus, which is one of 12 Ford motor vehicles with Sync, saw an 18% improvement last month. Sales of Ford Fusion were up 39%, and Mercury Milan sales were up 43%.



In a release, Mark Fields, president of the Americas for Ford, said consumers were responding to Sync. "All of our Sync-equipped models are turning quickly. Affordable technology that integrates mobile communication and entertainment devices appears to be resonating with consumers."

Ford's--and everyone's--Achilles heel is mid-sized SUVs, where more fuel-efficient car-based crossovers are devouring market share. Sales of Ford's once-dominant Explorer SUV are off 23% so far this year. Competition from General Motors and Toyota is taking its toll on the once-unassailable Ford F-150 pickup, for which sales were off nearly 12% last month and a little more than that year-to-date through November.

General Motors posted an 11% decrease in sales last month--but part of that reflects a 29% reduction in sales to rental fleets, and a reduction by 16% of total fleet sales.

The company reported that Chevrolet cars sales up 15%, driven by vehicles like Malibu, Aveo and Cobalt. Cadillac is getting traction from the new CTS sedan, which got street cred by being chosen "Car of the Year" by Motor Trend, and sales of which are up 48%. Pontiac car sales are also up 8% because of the G5 and G6 cars.

Said Mark LaNeve, GM North America vice president of sales, service and marketing, in a company release: "Integral to our strategy is to grow our share in the key car segments."

Hyundai posted a 12% increase in sales, driven by compact crossovers and cars like Santa Fe and Sonata--which, per the company, experienced a 41% improvement in volume versus the month last year. Kia reported record November sales of 24,177--an 8.9% increase--giving the company year-to-date sales of 281,405, up 6.5%.

Nissan reported selling 80,683 vehicles last month--a 6.1% gain--with Nissan division up 6.8% and Infiniti up 2.1%, driven by its G sedan. Honda's sales last month were up 4.7%, supporting a 2.7% year-to-date gain.

Toyota eked out its best-ever November, with a slight uptick versus the month last year. The Toyota division sold 172,341 vehicles, a 1.4% increase; although Lexus saw sales sink 7.8% last month, because of softer SUV sales. Lexus sold 5.7% fewer SUVs versus the month last year.

Mitsubishi, which was plummeting in 2005 and heading toward Isuzu's fate in the U.S. consumer market, said it sold more cars through November this year than it did in all of 2006. Although sales were down for the company last month, it posted increases for its Lancer car, Raider compact SUV and Endeavor SUV, and posted the best 11-month sales--123,089 new vehicles delivered--since 2004.

On the luxury end of the market, Mercedes-Benz continued its roll, reported its best-ever November with a 3.4% increase versus last November--which brings Mercedes U.S. year-to-date sales to 225,904 vehicles.

Fuel costs continued to erode Big Three truck sales. Chrysler LLC saw a 2% slip in sales last month. Chrysler division sales were down 13% because of the PT Cruiser, which will be discontinued, as well as the Pacifica and Aspen SUVs. The division had sales increases for its cars, with Sebring sales up 15%, and 300 sales up 7%.

The company's Jeep division posted a 2% decrease in new vehicle deliveries last month, versus the month in 2006. Dodge sales were up 6% because of positive sales of its Charger and Nitro cars.

Next story loading loading..