Luxury and Family Cars Avoid Sales Slump

By David Thomas  on September 2, 2010
Every headline may scream that new-car sales are slumping because of last month’s figures compared with the Cash for Clunkers-fueled August 2009 numbers. That slump is certainly real for mass sellers with low price tags and high mileage that got the highest government incentives in 2009, but sales for other more expensive models, luxury cars and thirstier trucks and SUVs saw gains in 2010.

Take Toyota, whose sales fell 33% in August compared with the same month in 2009. Sure, its two best-selling cars sold nearly 46,000 fewer units year over year – or roughly twice as many vehicles as Volkswagen sold in August 2010 total – but sales of the new Avalon and Sienna minivan as well as the FJ Cruiser, 4Runner and Sequoia SUVs were all up. While those sales pale in comparison — about 8,000 extra units — they are vehicles with higher price tags and typically more profit for the automaker. But even if there were enticing incentives on these models, that means car shoppers were willing to sign up for higher monthly payments than the folks lining up for Cash for Clunkers.
This trend at Toyota was seen nearly across the board. Honda saw similar drops with its Civic and Accord, with increases in Pilot and Odyssey. Ford saw its inexpensive Focus drop nearly 10,000 units, but the redesigned Taurus saw sales up 50%.

The only midsize sedan — arguably the most contested car segment — that saw sales up significantly was the redesigned Hyundai Sonata, gaining nearly 10,000 units or 80% and making another appearance in the top 10 best-selling cars in August.
The turnover in model years and number of new models also affected sales of the mainstream brands, with the Ford Edge and Explorer seeing dips with new models going on sale in the near future. The larger Ford Expedition SUV — with no news of a redesign in its future — saw its sales grow 57%. Sales of the Volkswagen Jetta were also down 30% as owners await the redesigned model going on sale in October.
What about luxury makers? Acura, Audi and Infiniti all saw sales go up in August. Even though Lexus' sales dipped 11.6%, the luxury brand saw its expensive cars like the LS up slightly and its larger SUVs like the LX and GX up 58% and 78%, respectively.

Add this to full-size domestic pickups all seeing sales increases, and it's clear that some segments are seeing healthy activity. It just seems that these buyers don’t generate huge headlines.

Car Buying

Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.  Email David