NEW YORK (Aug. 4, 2010) — Maybe it was the record high temperatures that forced people inside seeking the comfort of air conditioning. Or maybe it was the long-held tradition that prices go down in summer as old vehicle inventory must make way for new stock. Or maybe the economy's just getting better.
Whatever it was, nearly every auto maker—including the Detroit Three domestic car companies—posted higher U.S. sales in July compared to the previous month of June, and compared year-over-year to July 2009 when the industry was in the midst of its worst annual sales since 1970.
General Motors Co., Nissan Motor America and Hyundai—each with a new chief marketing officer (CMO) at the helm in the last three months due to the Joel Ewanick Shuffle—all posted gains. GM's sales rose 2.6 percent over last month and 5.4 percent from July of 2009. When you take out Pontiac, Hummer, Saturn and Saab brands that GM shuttered or sold as part of its bankruptcy reorganization last summer, the remaining brands—Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac—were up 25 percent over last year.
“If you look at the domestic auto makers, if you look at that four-brand-by-four-brand comparison, GM is the winner of the month,” said analyst Jesse Toprak of Santa Monica, Calif.-based TrueCar.com.
“When we say we want to design, build and sell the world's best vehicles, we're not talking about just one vehicle, one brand, or one month,” GM's Don Johnson, vice president of U.S. sales operations, said in a statement. “Our July results again reflect that each of our brands has contributed significantly to our gains. The size and scope of the U.S. market demands a strong portfolio of well-targeted brands. The success of Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac month in and month out, indicates that the new GM's brand strategy is sound.”
Mr. Ewanick has been implementing that new brand strategy since May, when he was named vice president of marketing at GM. He was at Nissan for five weeks before that, necessitating a CMO change there, and was at Hyundai for several years before briefly moving to Nissan, necessitating a CMO change at Hyundai.
Neither auto maker seems to have suffered. Hyundai Motor America announced sales of 54,106 vehicles in July, up 5.6 percent from June and a 19 percent increase compared with the same period a year ago. This represents an all-time sales record for the month of July and marks only the fourth time Hyundai has surpassed 50,000 units in a month.
Nissan reported a 14.6 percent year-over-year increase in July. Other big winners included Kia (up 11 percent from June and 21 percent from last July) and Subaru (up 11 percent from June and 10 percent from July 2009).
Domestically, Ford Motor Co. had flat sales last month compared to June, but was up 3 percent compared to July 2009. Chrysler Group L.L.C. reported sales up 1 percent from June to July, and up 5 percent in July of this year compared to July 2009.
Japanese auto makers American Honda Motor Co. Inc. and Toyota Motor Co. had slow months. Honda sales were down 5.6 percent from June and 9.7 percent year-over-year. Honda officials said the decrease was because of the larger increase in sales last year due to the “Cash For Clunkers” program, but Mr. Toprak said he was “somewhat skeptical in buying that argument. We'll have to see what the rest of the year brings.” Honda's sales are up 14 percent overall this year compared to 2009.
Post-recall, Toyota reported a 3.2 percent decrease in year-over-year July sales, although its yearly sales are up 23 percent compared to last year, proving it has survived its recall scandal from earlier this year fairly well.
This report appeared in Advertising Age magazine, a New York City-based sister publication of Tire Business.