March 2011 Auto Sales: Winners And Losers

April 2, 2011

March sales numbers are out, and the Big Three domestic automakers fared well last month. Led by Chrysler with an increase in sales of 31 percent over last year, the Detroit automakers all ended the month on the positive side of the ledger.

Chrysler’s whopping increase in sales was the best month in three years.

Ford beat out General Motors in unit sales for the first time since 1998. The company recorded an overall increase of 19 percent over last year. The Ford brand led the way with a year-to-year increase of 28 percent. The redesigned Ford Explorer played a large role in that growth as a result of a 111-percent bump in sales.

The disappointment was Ford’s Lincoln brand. Lincoln recorded a drop of 2 percent, due in part to lackluster consumer response to the MKT crossover. Lincoln sold just 455 MKT units in March, down 39 percent from March 2010.

General Motors' March 2011 sales were up 10 percent compared to a year ago. The Cruze and Equinox—with their greater fuel efficiency—helped GM stay in positive numbers.

Imports: a wild ride

Some of the biggest winners in this category were Kia, Mitsubishi, Mini, Mazda, Nissan, and even Mercedes-Benz. Losers were Smart USA and Toyota.

MINI’s year-to-year sales were up 69 percent with strong demand for the Cooper and Countryman.

Kia was one of the biggest surprises with a 45-percent increase over last year. The new Optima helped blast Kia into record territory, along with very strong Sportage sales.

Mitsubishi showed why it could be an up-and-comer, with a sales increase over last year of 39 percent.

Mazda sales were up 33 percent. Nissan recorded a strong month: with a 28-percent rise in sales, the Altima was the best-selling sedan in the U.S. last month, for the first time ever. Nissan’s high-end brand, Infiniti, also recorded strong sales, up 14 percent over last year. Honda was up 20 percent with its high-end Acura brand recording a modest 4-percent increase.

Led by strong Jetta sales, Volkswagen sales were up 23 percent. Audi had its best first quarter in the company’s history. Sales were up 19 percent over last year’s first three months.

Biggest losers

The company with the biggest drop in sales in March 2011 compared to 2010 was Smart USA. Its sales were down an unhealthy 37 percent. The other loser was Toyota, which recorded a 10-percent drop in year-to-year sales. That figure includes the Scion brand. Toyota’s high-end Lexus models were down almost 2 percent.

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