The automotive experts at Edmunds.com have released the top 50 vehicles most often researched by visitors to their website. The automotive experts at ACARPLACE.COM decided to see how those searches compared to actual purchases, so we added a “sales” column with each vehicle’s rank by March 2012 sales volume. Since Edmunds not only ranked the Toyota Prius as a single model but also ranked individual lines, we looked at the actual sales volume of each and estimated where it would rank had Toyota reported them as individual models.
Toyota hybrid sales soared 50.8 percent in March, finishing the first quarter of 2012 47.9 percent ahead of the first three months of 2011. Camry sales rocketed 276.1 percent to 5,404 units, second only to the Prius, which again had segment-leading sales of 27,800, up 49.4 percent, and outsold the Toyota Corolla for the month.
GM was the next big player in the hybrid segment, thanks to the (very) mild hybrid eAssist system available on the Buick LaCrosse Eco, Buick Regal and Chevrolet Malibu Eco. GM also reported record sales of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.
Toyota and GM were the driving force behind a 47.7 jump in hybrid sales last month and a large increase in market share, from 2.7 percent in March 2011 to 3.4 percent this year. For the first quarter of 2012, hybrid sales are up 42.8 percent and market share has grown from 2.5 percent to 3.1 percent.
Hybrid buyers had eight new choices last month. Manufacturers reported sales on 33 hybrid models in March 2012, compared to 25 in March 2011. Overall average sales per model increased 32 percent from 1,363 to 1,461 units.
Not every manufacturer finished in the black. Honda, third in the segment by volume, reported hybrid sales down 49.6 percent, while Ford, the fourth-largest player, came in with a 45.1 percent deficit.
Toyota dominated hybrid sales last month and in the first quarter. The combined March market share for Toyota and Lexus hybrids grew from 72.6 percent last year to 77.4 percent this year. For the quarter, share rose from 71.1 percent in the first three months of 2011 to 76.0 percent in 2012. The Prius, alone, accounted for 57.7 percent of all hybrid sales and adding just the Camry increases the share to 68.9 percent. In fact, without Toyota, growth in the hybrid segment would have fallen by nearly two-thirds to 16.7 percent. Sales per model would have actually declined, from 550 to 436, a 20.7 percent fall.
Toyota’s impact on the hybrid market was further reinforced with the release of a Polk study yesterday. The study, covering the four-year period from the beginning of 2008 to the end of 2011, showed that only 35 percent of hybrid buyers purchase another hybrid at trade-in time. Polk said that if Prius buyers are factored out, the repurchase rate drops to fewer than one in four. Surprisingly, the repurchase rates in Southern California, usually considered to be in the forefront of “green” vehicle markets, were at or below the national average. In Los Angeles, the rate, including the Prius, is 34.1 percent.
Polk doesn’t give any specific reasons for the low repurchase rate, but price is likely to be a major factor, along with significant increases in the fuel efficiency of gasoline-powered cars. Polk did note that fuel prices did not seem to be a significant influence in purchase decisions.
In the pure, or mostly pure, electric segment, the Chevrolet Volt was the hands-down winner, reporting record sales of 2,289 cars, enough to put it in fourth place among all alternative-power vehicles, hybrid, electric and diesel. The new Toyota Prius PHV, a partial hybrid like the Volt, came in second with 911 sales. Sales of the Nissan LEAF nearly doubled, up 94.3 percent to 576 cars. BMW’s Active E was fourth with 326 sales and Mitsubishi sold 56 of its tiny, egg-shaped MiEV. Electric car share jumped from 0.07 percent in March 2011 to 0.3 percent last month.
German clean diesels also had a good month in March. Sales of diesels were up 39.6 percent, to 11,642 cars and crossovers. Volkswagen’s Jetta, Passat and Golf were the top three in sales and VW claimed 72.5 percent of clean diesel sales up from 70.1 percent in March 2011. Volkswagen’s share is not surprising as all other diesels are sold by upmarket luxury brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Unlike the hybrid segment, there were only three diesel models that missed their year-ago numbers: the Audi Q7, BMW 335d and Mercedes-Benz R320. The results for the BMW and Mercedes aren’t surprising; the 335d and the entire R-Series have been pulled from the U.S. market and dealers are selling down existing inventory. In first-quarter sales, the segment-leading VW Jetta missed its 2011 mark by 0.7 percent, quite possibly due to sales that went to the new Passat.
As a group, the alternative-power vehicles claimed 4.6 percent of total light vehicle sales in March, up from 3.6 last March.
In its monthly poll of industry analysts, Bloomberg reports encouraging forecasts for the Detroit automakers and another good month of light vehicle sales industrywide.
When results are released later today, the consensus is a seasonally-adjusted annualized rate of 14.5 million sales on a volume of about 1.2 million cars and light trucks. This would put the SAAR for the first quarter at 14.8 million, well ahead of earlier predictions.
Small-car sales are seen as being especially strong as rising fuel prices in a recovering economy has consumers making different vehicle choices instead of staying home as they did in 2008, when the economy was already stumbling.
While the table covers only Chrysler, Ford and GM, analysts making predictions beyond the domestic companies see Volkswagen posting the largest gains of the major automakers, with sales seen being up 35 percent compared to March 2011. Chrysler isn’t far behind at 31 percent, continuing a long streak of big improvements. Analysts say the secret to Chrysler’s March results will be a big increase in passenger car sales. Small cars and more than 2,000 Volt plug-in hybrid sales are forecast to propel General Motors 19 percent past its year-ago numbers and continued strong sales of the Focus are seen giving Ford a 5.5-percent advance.
Fully recovered Toyota is expected to report sales rose 15 percent as Prius sales likely set a new record. Honda’s improvement is envisioned as a more modest 5.3 percent and Nissan’s should come in around 11 percent.
Hyundai and Kia should be able to tack on another 18 percent to their combined sales from March 2011.
BLOOMBERG ANALYST POLL – MARCH 2012 LIGHT VEHICLE SALES
The manufacturers’ sales reports won’t be released until next Tuesday, April 3, but carbuying site TrueCar.com’s Jesse Toprak is already saying that the sales of the past two months will be continued in March.
While Toprak says March won’t equal Feburary’s 15-million-plus seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR), it should come in at a very solid 14.5 million, more than a million additional sales ahead of last March’s 13.09 million.
Sales volume is predicted to total 1,416,703 cars and light trucks, 13.70 percent more than a year ago and 23.30 percent more than February 2012.
Toprak says Volkswagen will post the biggest year-over-year gain, followed by Chrysler and General Motors. Honda will post the largest increase compared to February with Hyundai and Kia combining for second and Volkswagen coming in third.
TrueCar.com takes the extra step and forecasts by brand. It’s no surprise that Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota are predicted to take the win, place and show spots by total sales, but Fiat, Smart and Chrysler are seen posting the strongest improvements over March 2011.
TRUECAR.COM SALES FORECAST – MANUFACTURERS – MARCH 2012