To say 2011 was an interesting year would be an understatement. 2010 ended on a high note with a great December, and optimism could be felt throughout the auto industry. The first quarter of 2011 was a bit of a disappointment, but that was to be expected…the automakers pulled back on incentives like they do almost every year. Then the earthquake and tsunami hit and sent shockwaves throughout the industry. The import car companies were hurt worst, but every automaker was touched due to a lack of parts.
Inventory levels of Honda and Toyota dealers were down 90% in some cases. Nissan and Subaru dealers experienced massive shortages, and every automaker that produced hybrids ran completely out of them. Auto sales in America were up in 2009 after the disaster of 2008. 2010 was better than 2009, and everyone in the industry, including me, thought that 2011 would continue the upward trend. That was until the earthquake, when the wheels feel off everything.
The auto industry is a resilient bunch, and we now know that when the smoke cleared for 2011, there were almost 12.8 million new vehicles sold, a solid 10.3% increase from 2010. It was an eye-opener too for consumers who turned from the brands that were short in supply to discover there was a world of great vehicles out there.
Car sales were up 9% for the year, with the most growth coming in the small car segment, but mid-sized cars were way up too. Large cars were down almost 25%, and we saw a slight increase in luxury car sales. Pickup truck sales were up almost 12% in 2011, fueled by increases from Ford, Chevy, and Dodge. SUV sales were up too, with the largest increase coming in the mid-sized segment-which was up 45%. Small SUVs showed an increase of 15%.
Double-digit increases were seen by many automakers, led by Chrysler up 26%. Ford was up 11%, GM 13%, Hyundai up 20%, and Nissan was up 14% among many that saw increases. Toyota and Honda were down, but both had great years in 2010 and of course the lack of inventory for those two severely crippled them.
Looking into individual vehicles, the F150 was the #1 selling nameplate again, with Chevy Silverado coming in #2. Those two vehicles combined were over 1 million sales. Toyota Camry was the #1 selling car again even with the inventory situation, but aided by sales of the new 2012 Camry.Nissan Altima came in second in cars, but Ford Fusion made it a race! In SUVs, the Ford Escape was the #1 seller, followed by the Honda CR-V and Chevy Equinox.
The luxury car race was a fun one to watch. Lexus had dominated this segment for 11 straight years, but after the earthquake and the lack of Lexus inventory, Mercedes Benz and BMW duked it out for bragging rights. It was BMW who took the checkered flag by a scant 2700 vehicles out of combined sales of almost a half million vehicles.
I looked also to see what the lowest volume cars of 2011 were. I wasn’t interested in the exotic cars, or cars that were discontinued. At the bottom were the Hyundai Azera, and dead last was the Acura RL, which barely sold 1000 vehicles for the year.
I ascertain a couple of things from all the sales numbers for 2011. The economy is picking up clearly, pickup truck sales are an indicator of business purchases, mostly in the service and manufacturing sectors. This is especially true when gas prices are high like they have been.
It is clear too that America is looking at downsizing and fuel-efficiency, as evidenced by the increases in small and midsized cars, and midsized and small SUVs. It is a safe bet that in every one of these cases, a more fuel-efficient car was purchased.
It was truly a great year for the industry, nothing like 2007 when 16 million vehicles were sold, but you have to like the 3-year trend since the crash of 2008.