2010 Nissan Altima Coupe and SedanEnlarge Photo
Industrywide, sales were up 24.4 percent in March, versus last March, although incentives rose by less than ten percent. Overall, incentives averaged $2,800 per vehicle this past month, down from $3,103 in March of last year, but sales overall sales haven't risen appreciably yet and the U.S. still scraps more vehicles than it purchases new.
Automakers that didn't do very well included the two Swedish automakers Volvo and Saab. Volvo is offering much more than double the incentive money it was a year ago ($6,189 per vehicle this March, $2,913 last March, on average). Both automakers were just recently sold to new buyers—Volvo to China's Geely, and Saab to the Netherlands-based sports-car maker Spyker.
Suzuki's sales were among the most disappointing—down nearly 72 percent (the largest drop of any automaker) in March, versus last March, despite having the new 2010 Suzuki Kizashi out, as well as a broadened 2010 Suzuki SX4 lineup.
As for Toyota, it appears a little too early to say for sure yet whether the incentives erased all their image issues. "The incentives worked even better than we thought," said Toprak. "Now what is going to happen in April?"
Indeed, the real test of whether or not the entire U.S. auto industry has really begun a slow and painful recovery will also come next month. Sales are typically down four to five percent from March to April, but if April levels can meet those of March, it's about the best indicator we have that we've weathered the worst of the storm.