Some March Sales Considerations

Gary S. Vasilash

The news about March sales has to be encouraging to all related to the auto industry. Of course, there does need to be some caution: Remember, in places around the country—like Detroit—March was a freakishly mild month weather-wise. People busted out the shorts and the sandals, and activities (e.g., lawn mowing, car-buying) that usually happen in the typically more temperate months. So perhaps there was some pull-ahead of behaviors.

Be that as it may, there were a few data points that are interesting.

Toyota, the company that went from being a model of production to a company that seemed to be able to do little right (and then dealt with the repercussions of natural disasters after the quality disasters—mainly imagined problems, mind you, but perceived as such just the same) is on track to have the Camry the #1 selling car for the 11th year in a row. Yes, it seems way early to make that call, but consider that in March there were 42,567 Camrys sold compared with 28,562 Ford Fusions (although there is a new model coming), 23,887 Chevrolet Malibus (and there are more new ones coming), and, as we’ve previously noted, the midsize that is really doing far better than one might imagine, the Nissan Altima, had sales of 41,050 units in March.

The point is: although the buzz seems to be more about Ford and Chevy, the folks in Dearborn and Detroit really need to keep focused on Toyota (as well as Nissan, Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, Kia. . . .).

Second consideration. In March, the price of gasoline began its march northward. Just as the temperatures were, in many locales, Memorial Day-like, the gas prices were that way, too, and then some.

Prius 2012

And the Prius, which some consider to be a cliché, had its best-ever March, with sales of 28,711 units, which puts it ahead of the aforementioned Fusion and Malibu, although one might consider its more direct competition (thinking about fuel efficiency, if nothing else) the Ford Focus and the Chevrolet Cruze, but the former had sales of 28,293 and the latter 21,607.

Still, there is something that need be pointed out: The Ford F Series, the perennial best-selling vehicle, had its best March since 2007, back in those days when the words “mortgage” and “crisis” were rarely paired. There were 58,061 F Series trucks sold.

2012 Ford F-150 XLT

Which might lead you to think: “What’s that nonsense he’s spouting about gas prices and an effect on vehicle sales?”

Point taken.

So it is worth noting that a whopping 41% of those trucks were equipped with the six-cylinder 3.5-liter Ecoboost engine, which gives the pickups EPA numbers of 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway.

Yes, gas prices matter to people who don’t buy Priuses, too.