Top 10 Best-Selling Cars: May 2011

May was a mixed bag in terms of new-car sales. Demand was down slightly because of a drop in incentives, and the supply of some Japanese brands was down because of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami earlier this year.

Unsurprisingly, Japan’s big three automakers saw sales decline from May 2010. Toyota was off the most, down a tremendous 27.9% from May 2010. Its Lexus division was down 40%.

The two other major Japanese brands were less impacted but still saw large declines. Honda was off by 16.1% and Nissan by 9%. While not as big a seller as the other three, Subaru was down 15.3% after months of strong sales.

Ford and GM saw sales flatten from last year, losing 0.1% and 1.2% respectively, despite huge growth in small-car sales. Ford’s new 2012 Focus saw sales up 31.7% to 22,303 units, and Chevy’s Cruze had another strong month, besting the Focus with 22,711 units sold.

The third domestic automaker, Chrysler, saw sales increase 10% with its best May since 2008. Three vehicles were responsible for the bulk of the growth: the new Chrysler 200 sedan and the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs.

Chrysler passed Toyota and Honda to become the third best-selling automaker in the U.S. in May behind GM and Ford.

There were plenty of bright spots, especially for Korean brands Kia and Hyundai, which had sales spikes 53% and 21%, respectively, on the strength of their midsize sedans. Hyundai’s new Elantra compact increased sales with 20,006 units sold. Only the Sonata sold more with 22,754 units. Kia sold a record 11,157 of its Soul compact utility vehicle, making it the No. 2 best-selling vehicle for the brand. The 2012 Soul will be out later this summer. The Sorento was Kia’s top seller in May.

European brands did well, too, especially Volkswagen and Porsche. VW’s new Jetta led its best sales month in more than seven years, moving more than 16,000 units. Sales of Porsche’s Cayenne SUV helped rocket the brand up 50% over last May.

Best Sellers

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