MAASTRICHT, THE NETHERLANDS - U.S. car and truck sales took another hit last month. Ford plans to cut production by 50,000 units in the fourth quarter and says the total market will be on the low end of its earlier 14- 14.5-million projection. General Motors is getting optimistic, asserting that sales and the U.S. economy may have bottomed out in July. Meanwhile, here in Europe, where I'm attending a program outlining Ford's small car plans for the U.S., Volkswagen AG has announced it has outsold Ford Motor Company worldwide in the first half of the year. Ford's European models have been popular and critical successes, and hopes it can do the same with some of those models in the U.S.
Volkswagen says it sold 3.31-million units worldwide in the first half of '08, up 7.2 percent and better than Ford's 3.22 million. That places VW third, behind Toyota and General Motors in global sales.
Back in the U.S., the usual subject of this monthly post, GM's sales fell 20.4 percent compared with August '07, to 308,817. The automaker says full-size pickups had their best month in a year, and SUVs had their best market share in 2008. Market share can be misleading, because this indicates that GM's full-size pickup and SUV sales simply didn't fall as much as anyone else's. And Ford and Dodge are trying to ramp down current pickup models so they can finally introduce the '09 F-150 and Ram. Still, GM predicts the automotive and housing markets will start to pick up in the last few months of '08 and continue into '09. GM says that its 309k August sales are up 31 percent over July '08.
GM car sales fell 20.4 percent in August versus August last year, and trucks, which still make up the majority of its sales at 182,844, fell 24.1 percent.
In the U.S., Ford's sales of Ford, Mercury and Lincoln cars and trucks were off 25.6 percent, to 151,021. It had few successes, mostly new models. Escape was up 17.3 percent, but Explorer was down 53.9 percent. Ford sold 203 fewer Edges versus August '07, but more than makes up with that with 2,010 of its new Flex CUVs.
Chrysler sold 110,235 cars and trucks in August, down 34 percent from August '07, up 12 percent over July '08.
Toyota/Lexus/Scion again outsold Ford for second place, with 211,533 units, down 9.3 percent. It sold more hybrid models than it sold Lexus cars last month.
American Honda (includes Acura) was off 7.3 percent, to 146,855. Its new Pilot was up 18.6 percent - no doubt thanks in part to production ramp-down of the old model - and Civic sales rose 5.3 percent.
Nissan and Infiniti posted a rare increase, up 13.6 percent to 108,493. Winners included the new Maxima, Infiniti FX and Nissan Frontier, Xterra, Pathfinder and Quest, strangely enough. Sentra and Versa traded places, with Versa off 5.2 percent to 8,015 and Sentra up 1.4 percent, to 9,207. Was it supply, or have Americans decided that a Sentra's fuel economy is high enough?
Mazda's mostly small and midsize lineup lost 4.4 percent in sales, to 23,680 units. Mazda3 and 5 were up, the outgoing 6 was down. MX-5 Miata was up 13.6 percent, to 1,052. CX-7 was off 28.4 percent, CX-9, the '08 Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year, was up 41.4 percent.
Hyundai sales fell 8.8 percent to 41,130, but the company notes that it set a sales record in August '07. Mercedes lost sales on all models except the C-Class.
So, has the U.S. auto market hit bottom? Automakers are eternally optimistic, just like the sales people who move the iron. We may have seen the worst of it in July, but even with oil edging down to $108 per barrel, I don't see substantial relief in sight. We may have to wait for the GM-Ford seismic shift to small cars coming in late '10 before we see a full resurgence in car/truck sales.