September 19, 2020

Auto Sales Increase in March

Nissan, Hyundai and Kia each set new monthly sales records. But Toyota said its sales fell 6 percent from a year ago.

Toyota’s drop was partly attributable to the big discounts it was offering in March 2010 after two big recalls. Sales of its popular hybrid car, the Prius, were up 58 percent, but its two top-selling models, the Camry and Corolla sedans, were each surpassed in their respective segments by competing models at Honda, whose sales were up 23 percent.

None of the carmakers said the disaster in Japan cut into March sales, but Ford and Nissan announced that they would have downtime this month at some North American plants that obtain some parts from Japan. Both companies said the plants were previously scheduled to have shutdowns later in the year.

Nissan said it was halting production for a total of six days at its three United States plants and for five days at its two plants in Mexico. Nissan also said it would ship some engine components made in Tennessee to Japan to compensate for lost production at a damaged plant.

Ford said a plant in Louisville, Ky., that builds heavy-duty pickup trucks and large sport-utility vehicles would halt production next week to conserve parts from Japan. Ford said it has more than enough of those vehicles in inventory already.

Ford, the most profitable of the Detroit carmakers in 2010, said its sales rose 16 percent in March from a year ago. It sold 212,777 vehicles, 6,156 more than G.M., which reported a 10 percent increase.

Sales grew 31 percent at Chrysler, to the highest level in nearly three years, and 32 percent at the Korean carmaker Hyundai, which had sales of 61,873.

Nissan, whose factories in Japan were shut down for most of the month, said its sales were 121,141, a 27 percent increase.

Ford and G.M. each said demand for their smaller, more fuel-efficient models increased considerably last month. Meanwhile, sales of G.M.’s full-size pickups rose 11 percent, after jumping 66 percent in February.

Ford sold 9,787 of its subcompact Fiesta, the most since it was introduced last summer, and sales of G.M.’s Chevrolet Cruze compact increased 75 percent from last year’s performance of its predecessor, the Cobalt. In addition, G.M. said customers on average paid more than $19,000 for the Cruze, about $3,000 more than the Cobalt sold for last year.

Officials at G.M., which shut down a pickup-truck plant in Louisiana last week because of low supplies of a part from Japan, said they remained confident the industry would continue to grow at the rate they had forecast this year.

“We don’t see anything significant that’s going to slow down the industry,” Don Johnson, G.M.’s vice president for United States sales operations, said on a conference call. “I don’t see a big change in consumer demand, unless something very dramatic comes out of Japan that we don’t see right now.”

Across the industry, analysts projected that sales would increase at least 15 percent from March 2010, even as many brands pulled back on what had been sizable discounts offered in January and February. Incentives were estimated to be at the lowest level in more than four years, according to TrueCar.com, which tracks vehicle sales and pricing.

“The actual and perceived supply chain problems enabled automakers to lower incentive spending in March with the trend expected to continue into April,” Jesse Toprak, TrueCar’s vice president of industry trends and insights, said. “The Japanese automakers will see a dramatic reduction in incentive spending in the coming months with an increase in transaction price.”

Automakers and dealers have said that because of crisis in Japan, they could begin to have problems meeting demand in April and May. Most dealers began March with at least two months’ worth of inventory.

One exception is the Toyota Prius, a hybrid car whose sales have been climbing along with gas prices. Some dealers have reported running out of the Prius, which is imported from Japan. Toyota resumed limited production of the Prius and two other hybrid models on Monday.

Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the plant shutdowns in Japan have cut output by more than 400,000 vehicles, the research firm IHS Automotive said this week. In addition, Honda and Subaru this week began running their North American plants on shorter schedules to conserve limited supplies of some parts made in Japan.

Toyota, Honda and Nissan, among others, have said they expect to have nearly all their Japanese plants running at full speed again within a few weeks, but even so, transporting the vehicles they build to each dealership in the United States takes time.

Howdy Honda in Austin, Tex., for example, is sold out of the base model of the Honda Fit, a small hatchback imported from Japan, and probably will run out of some other nameplates in the next month or so, Cliff Collier, the general manager, said.

“The pipeline from Japan has just been shut off,” Mr. Collier said. “Just about everything that’s made over there, we can see it disappearing on the horizon although we’re not totally out.”

The supply issues could hinder Honda and other Japanese automakers, which have benefitted from previous periods of high gas prices but now could have trouble getting enough of their most fuel-efficient cars — many of which are either built in Japan or contain some Japanese-made parts.

“It could have been a time for us to really shine, but as it is we’re going to have to do the best that we can,” Mr. Collier said. “We’ll probably have to beef up our used-car operation.”

The good news for automakers and dealers is that, according to a survey conducted this month by CNW Marketing Research, an Oregon firm that monitors the auto industry, only 3.2 percent of shoppers would choose a different brand if the vehicle they wanted was unavailable for 45 days. If forced to wait 90 days, 10.8 percent would look to a competitor.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c1686355f63940fb0039af15bd79a47c

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