DETROIT - Chrysler says it sold 66,658 cars and trucks to retail customers in February, more than
Ford Motor Company's (not including Volvo) 63,950. Chrysler co-President Jim Press says Targeted Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds helped free up showroom credit via Cerberus' GMAC, and says his company is seeing some stability in the retail market. No one was ready to call last month's sales the bottom of the automotive market, although several cited some signs of relief. General Motors had the steepest decline of the majors, 52.9 percent lower than February '08, but it has seen some bottoming out in California, according to marketing and sales chief Mark LaNeve.
GM says last month's U.S. vehicle sales were the weakest for February since 1967.
Press touted Chrysler's reorganization and planning ahead for a smaller market, but its retail lead over Ford came at a price: incentive costs. The company says its incentive plans have been in place for quite some time. Next up is a free Hemi engine upgrade with every Dodge Ram pickup.
Chrysler led incentive costs in February, at an average of $5,560 per vehicle, according to 2953 Analytics. GM was second at $3,576, followed by Ford at $3,417. Japanese automakers still put far less money on the hoods of their cars. Nissan spent $2,501 per vehicle in February, with Toyota at $1,739 and Honda at $1,240.
"We make a positive contribution margin on everything we sell," Press said, which under questioning was later translated to mean that every car and truck contributes to Chrysler's fixed costs. So there.
Still, Toyota may want to think about increasing incentives to move some metal. Toyota is in talks with the state-backed Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) for $2 billion to help its U.S. operations. A spokesman confirmed the loan request with Business Week. Toyota's sales fell 39.8 percent versus last February.
Hyundai bucked the trend, posting a drop of just 1.5-percent compared with last February.
GM, Ford and Chrysler all said they're seeing used car prices firm up. None expect sales to make it back up to the 16- to 17-million annual level by mid-decade, but they're expecting growth in the market thanks to a large group of young people reaching driving age, plus the effects of the scrappage rate - currently about 12.5 million vehicles per year - to eventually catch up. The question is, when? The only answer everybody agrees on is: not anytime soon.
Now, for the numbers ...
GM: 127,296, off 52.9 percent
*Retail sales fell 43 percent.
*Saturn, Hummer and Saab combined were off 59 percent.
*Cars took 49 percent of GM sales, crossovers 24 percent and trucks 28 percent (rounded).
*Chevy Malibu sold 11,516, off 7.6 percent, but up 33 percent retail.
*Chevy Traverse, at 6,417, again outsold Ford Flex (2,352) and Dodge Journey (4,615).
*Hummer sold 1,053, off 68.7 percent.
*Lux car sales were off for everybody, including Cadillac, off 51.2 percent to 7,038.
Toyota-Scion-Lexus: 109,583, off 39.8 percent
*Toyota division accounted for 96,475, off 37.5 percent.
*Lexus fell 35.8 percent, to 13,108.
*Toyota and Lexus hybrid sales totaled 11,814.
*Camry was off 38.4 percent, to 20,634.
*Scion xB fell 55.3 percent, tC fell 61.6 percent and xD fell 50.1 percent.
*Total for the three Scion models was 3,699.
*Lexus LS fell 61.4 percent, to 700 cars.
*Toyota Tundra sales fell 58.6 percent, to 5,726 units.
Ford-Lincoln-Mercury: 96,044, off 48.8 percent.
*Focus outsold Fusion (opposite January sales), 9,904 to 7,603.
*Blame changeover from the '09 to the '10 Fusion.
*F-Series fell 55.1 percent to 23,614.
*After a relatively strong fourth-quarter and January, the pickup's sales have leveled off.
*Slow F-Series sales pulled Ford market share from 15.3 percent down to 14 percent.
*The '10 Mustang can't come too soon. Sales of the '09 were off 61.4 percent, to 2,990.
*Lincoln was off 41.2 percent, to 5,633. MKZ sales dropped 67.6 percent.
Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep: 84,050, off 44 percent
*Result of cutting fleet sales? Chrysler sold 1,448 Sebrings, off 87 percent.
*Chrysler 300 sold 2,778, off 70 percent.
*PT Cruiser, off 78 percent, to 1,218.
*Town & Country, off 32 percent to 8,099.
*Jeep Compass, off 68 percent to 923.
*Patriot, off 58 percent to 2,161.
*Dodge Caliber and Avenger, both off 77 percent, to 2,519 and 1,931 respectively.
*Dodge Charger was off 31 percent to 6,703.
*Challenger more than filled Charger's gap, with 3,283 sold.
*Ram was off 36 percent, to 14,448.
*Lame-duck Durango was off 81 percent, to 511.
*Rare bright spot was the Jeep Wrangler, up 28 percent, to 9,088.
Honda-Acura: 71,575, off 35.4 percent
*That's 63,916 Hondas, off 34.9 percent, and 7,659 Acuras, off 39.0 percent.
*Accord was off 39.8 percent, to 15,976.
*Civic was off 31.3 percent, to 15,687.
*Fit was up 2.3 percent, to 4,247.
*TL lost 37.2 percent, but TSX was down just two cars, to 2,293.
Nissan-Infiniti: 54,249, off 37.1 percent
*Nissan division was also off 37.1 percent, to 47,890.
*Infiniti was off 36.8 percent, to 6,359.
*Nissan sold 1,452 Zs, up 33 percent from the old model.
Hyundai's 1.5-percent decline, to 30,621, included increases for Accent, Elantra and Entourage. It sold 1,263 Genesis sedans.
Mazda's 30.4-percent drop, to 16,401, included an 11.7-percent increase, to 2,257, for the 5. Everything else was down, including Miata (489, off 47.1 percent).
BMW Group, including Mini, edged out Mercedes-Benz, 15,805 to 14,199.