Just Car Blog
|Fuzzy Math – Mercedes May Have Outsold BMW In The U.S. Last Year||
According to numbers reported by the automakers at the close of last year, BMW sold 281,460 cars in the United States, excluding its MINI brand. Luxury rival Mercedes-Benz sold 274,134 cars on these shores in 2012, excluding both Smart and its family of Sprinter vans.
BMW was quick to promote the fact that it outsold Mercedes for the second year in a row, and the issue seemed to be over. Until yesterday, that is, when Mercedes-Benz USA president and CEO Steve Cannon presented an entirely different set of numbers at an International Motor Press Association meeting.
As Motor Authority reports, Cannon based his revised numbers on an R.L. Polk report of new vehicle registrations. In 2012, Mercedes sold 274,134 new vehicles, of which 274,123 were registered. That’s a difference of just 11 units, which is significantly lower than some rival luxury brands.
Lexus, for example, sold 244,166 new vehicles but saw only 242,533 new vehicles registered. What happened to the other 1,633 vehicles is anyone’s guess, but the majority were probably “sold” on paper, then shuffled back into service as dealer demos or loaner cars. Eventually, these just-broken-in models were probably sold as used inventory.
What about BMW, who reported 281,460 new car sales in 2012? As Polk reports, the brand only realized 268,498 new car registrations, a difference of 12,962 units. That’s substantial by anyone’s estimation, and while BMW may have booked more sales in 2012, it appears that Mercedes-Benz actually put 5,625 more new vehicles in U.S. driveways last year.
What’s the takeaway from all this? Numbers and statistics can always be shaped to represent a creative, if questionable, view of the facts. No matter what the circumstances, always do your research thoroughly.
|In Search Of An Identity, Mazda Plans To Move Upscale||
For decades, Japanese automaker Mazda has been known for building cars that are fun to drive. Even if you discount the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the world’s best-selling sports car, the brand has still given enthusiasts cars like the Cosmos, the RX-2 & 3, the RX-7, the RX-8, the Mazdaspeed3 and the Mazdaspeed6. The sad truth of the matter is that enthusiasts are in the minority, and Mazda currently enjoys a scant two-percent global market share.
As Mazda’s CEO, Takashi Yamanouchi told Automotive News (subscription required), “In the global market, what is the significance of a player with a mere two-percent? We came to the conclusion that if we make ordinary cars for the mass market, there is no reason for us to exist.”
Yamanouchi’s ambitious goal is to grow sales by 43-percent in the U.S. market, with a target of 400,000 units by the end of the 2015 fiscal year. To do so, Mazda is relying on a wave of new product launches, as well as a repositioning of the brand to be “Japanese premium,” although that descriptor won’t be used in its marketing efforts.
Look for the new Mazda6 to take the point in reestablishing the brand. Due to hit dealers in January, the Mazda6 will rely on a mixture of styling, technology and premium materials to win the hearts and minds of buyers. Skyactiv, Mazda’s suite of eco-friendly technologies, will also play a role in the brand’s emerging image.
If you think that Mazda is targeting Lexus or even Acura with its latest move, think again: Hirotaka Kanazawa, Mazda’s global head of R&D, is quick to position the Mazda6 against German rivals, not Japanese. There’s a danger in doing so, as Suzuki tried the same thing with its Kizashi sedan. While the Mazda6 will likely be a more polished product than the Suzuki, it remains to be seen if buyers shopping for a BMW or Audi would include Mazda on that same list.
|To Catch BMW and Audi, Mercedes Offers Deep Discounts||
Mercedes-Benz is serious about its intent to reclaim its previous number one position atop the luxury auto sales food chain. To catch its German rivals, Mercedes-Benz is borrowing a thing or two from BMW’s play book, and the net result may be good news for consumers.
If you lease new cars instead of buying them, Mercedes may let you skip up to five payments to help with your seasonal cash flow. Not every tri-pointed-star model is eligible, but the program beats a similar offer from BMW, which is allowing consumers to skip up to three payments.
If you’re one of the cool kids, Bloomberg (via Autoblog) explains that you may even be able to get in on Mercedes’ “VIP Customer” program, which is offered at the discretion of the dealership’s general manager. Typically, the program is offered to repeat customers, dealership business associates or dealership extended family members. What’s in it? Cash rebates up to $5,000 on select GL Class crossovers, though the more popular C Class vehicles only get a $750 rebate.
Mercedes dealerships have also been instructed to increase the number of house-brand courtesy vehicles, giving consumers the ability to buy lightly-used loaner cars at a significant discount. How much use they’re required to see before being flipped is the subject of some debate; earlier this year, critics accused BMW of selling virtually new inventory as dealer demos in order to pad sales numbers.
This much is clear: sales in Europe are down, and sales in China aren’t growing at the rate they once were. That leaves the United States as Mercedes’ best potential market, so consider that in your strategy if you’re in the market for a new luxury automobile.
|Euro Economic Crisis Has BMW Shifting Inventory To The U.S.||
As bad as the economy in the United States is these days, it’s nowhere near as bad as the economy in Europe. Automakers have slashed European sales forecasts, and even China, once seen as the land of unlimited opportunity, seems to be cooling to luxury car purchases.
That leaves the United States as the last best hope for BMW to pull out a halfway decent year in 2012. To that end, Automotive News (subscription required) tells us that BMW is switching “tens of thousands” of models once destined for European or Asian markets to U.S. dealers.
While Europe is looking at its largest single-year new car sales decline in nearly two decades, BMWs sales globally remain strong. Through September, BMW’s sales are up by 8.6-percent over last year, though some of that reflects strong early-year demand in China. Unless something dramatic happens in the next sixty days, BMW will likely finish 2012 with higher sales than 2011.
That begs the question, “what about 2013?” No one expects the European economy to recover overnight, and there are no signs that Chinese consumers will return to the conspicuous consumption days of 2010 and 2011. If the U.S. economy takes a turn for the worse, sales could drop here as well.
If that’s the dark cloud, here’s the silver lining: if U.S. BMW dealers have more inventory than the market wants, the company could turn to discounts and incentives to move product.
|Subaru BRZ, Scion FR-S Top List Of Fastest Selling Cars||
We enthusiasts have been telling the auto industry the same thing for years, if not decades: build an affordable rear-drive sport coupe with plenty of upgrade potential, and the buyers will come. It looks like we were right, since Edmunds is reporting that the Subaru BRZ and the Scion FR-S currently have the lowest days-to-turn (DTT) in the industry.
Days-to-turn is exactly what it sounds like: the number of days between delivery of a car from a manufacturer to delivery of the same vehicle to a customer. The industry average for vehicles in the United States is 53 DTT, while Subaru’s BRZ took just four DTT and Scion’s FR-S took only five DTT. Next on the fastest-seller list was another limited-production car, the Audi TT-RS; it stayed on dealer lots a mere seven days.
You could easily make the argument that these three examples should be excluded from the list, since all are specialty cars with short supply and high demand. That would make the real best seller car number four on the list: Acura’s new ILX sedan, which took only eight DTT. Last in the top five was Toyota’s new Prius c, which found a new home in an average of 10 days.
We’re not sure there’s a common theme here. Sure, all five models are compact in size, but three emphasize entertainment value above all else, while two are more focused on fuel economy. If there’s any takeaway for the auto industry in these numbers, it’s probably this: when you build cars that customers want to buy, they don’t stay on dealer lots very long.
|Domestic Auto Industry Crawls Towards Recovery In 2011||
The numbers from the U.S. Big Three automakers are in, and on the surface it appears to be good news for the recovering domestic auto industry. In terms of unit sales, General Motors leads the pack, shipping some 2.5 million units in 2011 for a 13.7 percent growth over 2010. By GM division, Chevrolet pushed the most metal, selling 1.8 million vehicles (up 13.4 percent); GMC sold almost 398,000 units (up 18.8 percent); Buick moved close to 178,000 units (up 14.3 percent) and Cadillac sold just over 152,000 vehicles (up 3.7 percent).
Ford sold 2.1 million vehicles in 2011, led by the Ford brand which delivered just over 2 million unit sales for an increase of 17.4 percent from 2010. Lincoln sold a disappointing 85,643 vehicles in 2011, a decline of 0.2 percent compared to 2010. There were even a few Mercurys in the mix, since 248 pieces of the now-defunct brand found new homes in 2011.
Despite having the lowest unit sales, the Chrysler Group was the big winner in terms of sales growth. Overall, Chrysler sold 1.37 million vehicles in 2011, an increase of 26 percent from 2010. Dodge led the company in sales, with 451,040 units (up 18 percent), followed by Jeep with 419,349 (up 44 percent), Ram with 257,610 (up 21 percent) and Chrysler with 221,346 (up 12 percent). Even Fiat managed to sell nearly 20,000 Fiat 500s in 2011, which isn’t bad considering the brand’s difficulties in establishing a dealer network.
While sales for domestic luxury brands were either modestly higher or slightly lower than in years past, the same holds true with Japanese luxury brands. Lexus saw a decline of nearly 14 percent compared to 2010, while Infiniti fell by nearly 5 percent and Acura dropped by 8 percent.
German performance and luxury brands, however, enjoyed a record sales year. While Mercedes-Benz has yet to report numbers, Audi grew sales by almost 16 percent while Porsche saw 15 percent growth over 2010.
What does it all mean? Regular Americans, at least the few still collecting a regular paycheck, are once again shopping domestic brands thanks to improved quality, content and value. Wealthy Americans, on the other hand, seem to prefer their rides with a German flavor.
|The Numbers Prove It: Consumers Aren’t Buying Hybrids||
Over the next few years, expect to see a flood of new hybrid vehicles hit the market, as automakers scramble to reach the federally mandated corporate average fuel economy numbers recently approved by the Obama administration. By 2016, small passenger cars much achieve an average CAFE of 41 mpg; by 2021, just ten years from now, the value jumps to 51 mpg. Larger passenger cars must achieve 31 mpg by 2016 and 38 mpg by 2021.
To say that manufacturers are concerned about these numbers is an understatement, and foreign and domestic automakers alike are scrambling to find ways to comply. A relatively easy way to boost mileage is to “hybridize” an existing vehicle, like Ford has done with the Fusion, GMC has done with the Yukon and Honda has done with the Civic (to name just a few).
There’s just one problem with this strategy: consumers aren’t buying hybrids, at least not in significant quantities. Market research firm R.L. Polk compiled the data on hybrid versus conventional model sales for 2010 and 2011. Through July of 2010, some 937,218 models, available as either hybrids or conventional internal combustion vehicles, were sold. Of these, just 40,250, or 4.3 percent, were hybrids.
For 2011, the numbers get even worse. Of the models included and available as hybrids or conventionally powered vehicles, only 28,945 out of 1,017,608 vehicles sold through July were hybrids. That’s just 2.8 percent, and the only vehicles showing an increase in year to date sales were the Lexus GS Hybrid (up 1.7 percent) and the GMC Yukon Denali Hybrid (up 0.8 percent).
Aside from saying that hybrids aren’t distinctive enough from their conventionally powered cousins, Polk doesn’t give a reason for the poor performance of hybrid models. It doesn’t take a lot of research to isolate the problem, however: hybrids cost more money, at a time when consumers are watching every penny they spend. Hybrids are complex, and their dual propulsion systems have significantly more failure points than conventional, internal combustion vehicles. While the Ford Escape Hybrid has racked up a considerable number of miles in taxi service, proving its reliability, hybrids remain an unproven commodity to the average consumer.
If automakers plan on upping the number of hybrids sold, a good PR campaign is in order. Revised pricing, bringing hybrids closer to parity with their internal combustion siblings, would also help to move tin.
|May New Car Sales: Honda & Toyota Excluded From Top 10||
For as long as I can remember, the Toyota Camry, Honda Civic and Honda Accord have been in the top ten list of vehicles sold each month. If May’s new car sales are any indication, things may have changed for the Japanese automakers. Neither Honda nor Toyota cracked the top ten, and the highest selling vehicle between the two automakers was the Toyota Camry, which came in twelfth. The best selling Honda was the Civic, which came in at thirteenth, followed by the Honda Accord in the fourteenth spot.
It would be easy to write off the decline as stemming from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, but I’m not entirely sure that’s the case. All three cars are built in the U.S., but only the Civic was known to have production delays related to the disasters in Japan. Worse, the new Civic has been on sale since April, which begs the question of consumer satisfaction with the redesign.
Despite near record high gas prices, four of the top ten vehicles sold were trucks or SUVs. Full size pickups from Ford and Chevy took the top two spots, the Ford Escape came in sixth and the Ram pickup occupied the tenth spot. Mid-size sedans dominated much of the top ten, including the Chevy Malibu in third place, the Nissan Altima in fourth, the Ford Fusion in fifth and the Hyundai Sonata in seventh.
Perhaps most remarkable is that domestic compact cars have beaten their import rivals, and I simply don’t remember the last time this happened. Chevy’s Cruze squeaked by Ford’s Focus to claim the eight position, and both outsold the Hyundai Elantra (11th), Honda Civic (13th), Toyota Corolla (16th) and VW Jetta (18th). In fairness to Hyundai, I believe supply is limiting sales of the new Elantra, and the manufacturer is doing what they can to build for demand.
One month isn’t a trend, and only time will tell what the “new world order” of car sales will be. For now, things bode well for the domestic manufacturers, proving that good product at a fair price draws buyers into showrooms.
|Hybrids Outpace Conventional Vehicle Sales||
For years, Americans have ignored hybrid vehicles in favor of trucks, SUVs, minivans and sports cars. Even the occasional bump in gasoline prices wasn’t enough to make buyers warm up to hybrids, with the possible exception of Toyota’s Prius (which just exceeded 1,000,000 sold in the United States). That behavior may be changing, at least according to Edmunds: the website is reporting that sales of electric vehicles and hybrids increased by 37% in the first quarter of 2011. That compares against sales of conventional vehicles, which increased by 20% in the same time period; in other words, hybrid and EV sales are growing at nearly double the rate of conventional vehicle sales.
As you’d expect, Toyota is still the market leader with their Prius hybrid, which increased in sales by some 50% last quarter. Of the 78,523 “green” vehicles sold during Q1 2011, 54,609 (nearly 70%) were Toyotas. Honda was another big winner in the green vehicle sales wars, as their hybrid sales rose 84% (to 11,354 units) in the first quarter. Ford, who offers a variety of hybrids and will soon bring the Focus EV to market, moved 7,704 hybrids in Q1 to take the third spot.
I’d be the first to say that I’m just not a hybrid guy, and I’d much rather ride a 45 MPG bike than drive a 45 MPG car (yes, even in the rain). I’ve never driven a hybrid that thrilled me, and Honda’s CR-Z with the six speed manual has the distinction of being the hybrid that I least dislike. Here’s my question of the day: how expensive would gas have to get before you’d consider buying a hybrid?
Source: Left Lane News