March Auto Sales Out Like A Lion: We Pick Winners And Losers Page 2

April 5, 2010
2010 Nissan Altima Coupe and Sedan

2010 Nissan Altima Coupe and Sedan

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Nissan sales were surprisingly strong in March, up 43 percent from year-ago levels, with incentives only up about 12 percent, but it's not quite as it appears. "They had a horrible last March," said Toprak, who predicts that Nissan will be recovering at a better rate than the industry average for the rest of the year, because of the company's "sports-oriented mass-market" car line, which sits well with consumers who want something a little bit more premium than bargain-basement but not lavish either. Likewise, Toprak predicts that VW will continue to do well this year, because of its refreshed product line but also because they have the lowest price point of any European automaker.

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.

[TrueCar]

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