May is a merry month for Big Three automakers

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010

May was a good month for Detroit's Big Three automakers, thanks to individual and fleet sales, as optimistic buyers returned to car lots across the country. At the same time, recall-plagued Toyota might have begun to feel consumer blowback: The Japanese auto giant cut back on buyer incentives last month and saw sales slow down. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all enjoyed double-digit sales gains compared with May 2009, which was the month GM went into bankruptcy and one month after Chrysler did the same, so the May 2010 sales numbers are coming off lows. Buyer incentives in May sales averaged $2,603, more than $300 less than in May 2009, according to Fleet sales rose to 38 percent of GM's total sales. That's good for volume, but not for profit, as fleet sales are low-margin. GM said it hopes to end this year with 25 percent of its sales to fleets. Ford's fleet sales rose 32 percent, slightly higher than the company would like.



Ford, the only one of Detroit's Big Three to pass up federal bailout money, has been the big auto winner of the Great Recession. May was the sixth straight month in which Ford sales rose at least 20 percent over the previous year. Ford upped its second-quarter production goal by 15,000 vehicles and its third-quarter goal by 80,000 vehicles. May was the Mustang's best sales month this year. Increasing pickup sales suggests an uptick in the construction industry. Overall sales were crimped by Mercury, which Ford said Wednesday it will phase out by the end of the year. Ford might match GM's market share within a couple of years, analysts said.

-- CHRYSLER: For only the second time in two years, Chrysler sold 100,000 vehicles in a month, thanks to its minivans, pickups and Jeeps. Downside: Chrysler still has trouble selling sedans and coupes.



It looked like consumers didn't care about Toyota's recall of 8 million vehicles in recent months, after watching the company's strong March and April sales. But Toyota scaled back buyer incentives in May, and buyers looked elsewhere. Toyota lost market share last month and sales of its passenger sedans dropped 2 percent. Included in Toyota's recall are its Corolla, Avalon and Camry sedans. Toyota was helped by lighttruck sales last month, which went up 15 percent. Toyota's luxury Lexus brand jumped, helping to boost sales 35 percent last month.

-- GENERAL MOTORS: Sales rose 16.6 percent and would have risen more were the company completely rid of Pontiac, Saturn and the other brands it's ditching. Sales of Chevrolets, Cadillacs, GMCs and Buicks rose a combined 32 percent.

-- NISSAN: The Versa, Sentra and Altima sedans led sales up 24.1 percent.

-- HYUNDAI: The South Korean automaker had its best May in history, with sales rising 33 percent.

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