Lies, Damned Lies, & Car Sales

The Domestic Three have been reporting sales in positive numbers while Toyota and Honda are in the double-digit red ink. A little looking into these numbers indicates that things aren’t quite as they might seem.

One of the biggest dangers in the fact that companies like the Domestic Three have been reporting sales in positive numbers while Toyota and Honda are in the double-digit red ink is that people within the Domestic Three might get a little too chuffed about their performance and begin to think that they are on top of the world—something that happened before with dire consequences for all involved.

What’s more, a little looking into these numbers indicates that things aren’t quite as they might seem.

As Mike Rowe seems to have a penchant for cracking large at the expense of Toyota in his "Swap My Ride" TV commercials, let’s make a comparo of the July numbers for Ford and Toyota cars.  Yes, Ford still roundly kicks damn near everyone's ass in the truck category (GM is still a gamer), but realize that going forward the real competitive race is in passenger cars, as increasing gasoline prices are going to pretty much corral trucks into a vocational usage zone; occasional weekend mulch haulers are no longer getting the heavy metal.

The headlines are:

"Ford Brand Sales Up 13%"


"Toyota Division Sales Down 19.8%"

So it seems as though there is a considerable delta—32.8%in favor of Ford.  But the noise about the Fiesta and Focus notwithstanding, the increases were really on the strength of non-car products: Escape up 66% and Explorer up 108%, for example.

While percentages are convenient, they may be misleading.   And those who are misled generally end up someplace other than where they thought they were going.

The sales numbers for the beleaguered Toyota lead in a different direction than you might think.  Arguably, the Toyota Corolla and the Ford Focus compete head-to-head.  And on a sales percentage basis, the Corolla is getting its posterior handed to it by Focus: Corolla sales for July 2011 vs. July 2010 are off 33.2%, while Focus sales in the same measure are off a mere 3.4%.  You might think that the Corolla people might be heading for the lifeboats.

But consider: Toyota sold 17,577 Corollas in July compared with Ford’s 14,889 Foci.

Then there is the Fusion vs. Camry situation.  Having watched those Ford commercials, if I owned a Camry, I’d get to my Ford dealer posthaste.  But apparently, there are fewer people who think that way than you might think.

That is, while Fusion sales were up 11% and Camry sales down 20% (!), the sales numbers are a bit different: Fusion, 19,313 for July and Camry 27,016.

So what this says is that Toyota sold 29% more Camrys than Ford sold Fusions, and 15% more Corollas than Foci.

If you look at the numbers for total passenger car sales for the two, again the July 2011 to July 2010 figures are misleading.  As a percentage, Ford passenger car sales are up 7.9% and Toyota’s are down a whopping 28.3%.  Which might lead you to think that Toyota factories everywhere are groaning to a stop.

However, there were 60,088 Toyota cars sold and 55,834 Ford cars.

While some would correctly make the argument on behalf of Ford that directionally things are greatly improved, there are a few things that need to be taken into account moving forward.  For example, Prius sales were off by 41.8%, down to 7,907 from last July's 14,102, a decline that can be directly associated to the consequences of the Tohuku Earthquake and its aftermath.  The sixth-generation Camry is getting replaced later this year by a new one, and to say that this is a much better car than the last (which was the best-selling car last year, so let’s not underestimate the current generation) is to understate the case (yes, I’ve driven it: lots more in the next issue of Automotive Design & Production), and while pricing hasn’t been announced, you can bet that it will be, as they say in the business, “competitive.”

The point here is not to praise Toyota, but to simply underline the fact that this is a hyper-competitive business and those who get bollixed up by percentages and headlines may find themselves in a non-appealing situation.

Here's a figure that I’ll leave you with in this regard: 20,884.

Remember the 19,313 for the Ford Fusion?  Well, 20,884 is the number of Hyundai Sonata sales for July.  Think the Ford folks—or anyone else in the auto business, for that matter—can rest on their perceived laurels?