All three of the Detroit automakers, meanwhile, appear to be on much better footing than they were last year, during Cash for Clunkers. Chrysler's sales figures were actually up significantly versus last August (with Jeep one of the bright spots
, thanks in part to the new 2011 Grand Cherokee), and Ford jockeyed past Toyota for the number-two position in the U.S. market.GM is back on track
Signals were mixed from General Motors, though they distilled down to a positive message. Calendar year to date, GM sales are up five percent. But versus August of last year, those four brands fell about 11 percent. Buick, GMC, and Cadillac were all up versus last year, but Chevy was down 22 percent because of Cash for Clunkers and the run for small cars like the Chevrolet Aveo and Cobalt (now being replaced by the Cruze).
Chevrolet's Camaro started to fizzle a bit as deliveries were down 27 percent versus last year's muscle-car feeding frenzy.
Buick's sales were up 263 percent from last August (when, admittedly, the brand's portfolio was smaller than it is now), while Cadillac's were up 50 percent so far this year.
Toprak said that General Motors is making "real and sustainable improvement," and learning how to make money with fewer cars sold.
"GM is on the right track," Toprak says. "It's difficult to get a clear picture, but looking at the four existing brands for GM, they are indeed improving and making tremendous strides."
Many of GM's vehicles have been selling so strong that production and delivery has come at too slow of a pace—a refreshing situation for a company that's faced oversupply for many models over the past couple of years. The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, Toprak says, has been in especially short supply, and TrueCar has heard from several dealers who said they would have been able to sell 15 or 20 more vehicles right away, had they been in stock.A new attitude toward incentives
While a few models are selling with few if any discounts, most automakers are still relying on hefty incentives to move metal. But overall, incentive spending is way down.
However Toprak cautions that it's easy to be misled by the numbers. "Manufacturers are now much better at optimizing their incentive spending," he said, and that means that now and this fall you're less likely to encounter broad nationwide programs covering all models; instead manufacturers will be offering substantial incentives only where it might help move slow-selling models. For full-size pickups, Toprak says, in Texas you're not going to need to offer as much incentives as in California.