With its economy expanding by 3.5% in the July-September quarter, it was no surprise to see yet another relatively good month for US market vehicle sales in October. Yet along with the recovery have come some big changes. The major losers are well known but some brands have done extremely well out of the 2009 market, but which ones are they and what of overall trends?
Without a doubt the big winner of 2009 continues to be Hyundai-Kia. The combination of high-spec and keenly priced models with savvy marketing has been inspired. You need only see the year-on-year numbers to realise where so many Hyundai and Kia sales have come from. As at the end of October 2008, the group’s sales numbered 602,055 vehicles or only 47% of Chrysler’s total (1,273,559). Compare that with the first ten months of 2009: at 634,282, the sales tally is 81% of the market’s now former number three (777,917). Equivalent figures versus General Motors are just as striking: from Jan-Oct 2008, Hyundai-Kia’s total was a mere 23% of GM’s sales (2,582,310). For the first ten months of 2009, it was 37% (1,713,956).
Subaru (176,590) has also not only overtaken Mazda (175,257) and Daimler (166,985) but in the case of the latter, that now 10,000-vehicle lead is doubly impressive: this time last year, Subaru lagged Mercedes-smart-Maybach by 56,000 vehicles.
On a smaller scale, Subaru also stands out as a brand that has made big gains throughout 2009. Thanks to the new Forester and Legacy/Outback, as well as strong owner loyalty, this brand also looks set to have an even better 2010. Sales were up 36% year-on-year in October (overall market: -3.4%) and 13% for the year to date (-25%). Subaru (176,590) has also not only overtaken Mazda (175,257) and Daimler (166,985) but in the case of the latter, that now 10,000-vehicle lead is doubly impressive: this time last year, Subaru lagged Mercedes-smart-Maybach by 56,000 vehicles.
And so to the Detroit Three. Here, we not only see the glaringly obvious ascent of Ford, but also some interesting examples of the power of image and brand perception. Not taking taxpayers’ cash has clearly helped Ford - how else to explain the strong sales of the now nine year old Escape SUV? After the first ten months, with 138,739 sales it is some 18,000 units ahead of the Toyota RAV4. The leader in this segment, the Honda CR-V (158,753) also shows how segmentation is changing in the US market.
The CR-V is now the US’ third best selling light truck behind the Ford F-Series and Chevy Silverado pick-ups, having just overtaken the Dodge Ram. Meanwhile, sales of the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra, two other locally built full-sized pick-ups, have fallen so steeply throughout this year that few analysts now expect them to be replaced at the end of their current lifecycles. Toyota’s number one light truck is now the smaller Tacoma (Jan-Oct sales: 94,694).
Fully 24% of the 17,037 VW vehicles sold in October had a TDI badge on the bootlid.
With a 40,000-vehicle lead over the Toyota Camry, the Ford F-Series is guaranteed to be the US market’s number one in 2009 but that lead is not what it once was. Thanks to a general worry over the volatility of fuel prices, buyers are increasingly turning away from what are perceived to be overly-consumptive vehicles; witness not just the continued rise of the Camry, Accord, Civic and Corolla this year but the decline of big minivans with their standard V6 engines.
Finally, those OEMs such as Honda and Nissan that have cancelled so-called ‘clean’ diesel engines for the US market might be interested to see the other clear trend of 2009 – in October, Volkswagen of America’s 7.2% sales gain outpaced the market. And the main reason for that success? Fully 24% of the 17,037 Volkswagen vehicles sold in October had a TDI badge on the bootlid. A niche still, but premium-priced diesel cars and light trucks are clearly becoming increasingly big business for some players.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.