Shifting Sales Slam Big Three

May 7, 2008
The raw numbers are painful enough, but dig a little deeper into the latest monthly sales reports and you can see why Detroit’s Big Three have reason to worry about the future.

U.S. motor vehicles fell a hefty 6.9 percent in April, compared to year-ago numbers, and domestic manufacturers were clearly hit hardest, with Chrysler down 23.5 percent, GM off 16.2 percent, and Ford down 12.1 percent. “The reason for the takedown,” complained Mark Laneve, GM’s sales and marketing chief, is “rising oil prices.”

The impact of $120-a-barrel petroleum is, not surprisingly, being felt most acutely on the truck side of the industry’s sales charts. Including SUVs, pickups, vans, and minivans, light truck volume was off a whopping 17.4 percent for the month. And even the imports couldn’t avoid the pain. Toyota is suffering a sharp decline in demand for its Tundra pickup, for example, despite hefty incentives.

But the Japanese giant actually managed to gain ground during the downfall, its overall sales numbers up 3.4 percent for April, while its rival, Nissan, reported a 6.7 percent increase in sales, despite sluggish demand for truck models like the Titan pickup and Armada SUV. Why? Simple. The long-running truck boom appears to be over, and American motorists are, in ever-increasing numbers, migrating back to passenger cars and car-based crossovers. Industry numbers suggest that passenger car sales actually rose 5.2 percent in April, and the trend seems certain to continue, at least as long as consumers fear further fuel price increases.

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