By Kelsey Mays on February 29, 2012
Chrysler and Hyundai saw big increases in February sales as shoppers, spurred by positive economic news and rising personal income, hit dealerships to find incentives remain high. Dealer and manufacturer discounts, including trade-in bonuses and discount financing, totaled 16.1% off the average car's MSRP in early February, CNW Market Research reports. That's about even with January but much higher than February 2011's 13.3% in total discounts.
Sales for Ford's F-Series improved 25.9%, with the V-6 model — both naturally aspirated and EcoBoost (turbocharged) models — accounting for nearly 60% of sales. The Escape, an SUV that made the best-selling list for nine months running, dropped off as sales increased a modest 3.7%. Ford keeps piling on Escape incentives — up versus February 2011 — but perhaps enough shoppers are waiting for its replacement.
The redesigned Toyota Camry maintained a thin lead over the Nissan Altima to remain America's best-selling sedan, despite the Altima selling nearly 60% better. Nissan is cleaning up: Altima incentives are just a tad higher than they were a year ago, and the car is selling despite being in its twilight years. A redesigned Altima will debut at next month's New York auto show.Honda logged huge increases for two redesigned mainstays, the CR-V and Civic. It's a testament to shoppers' preference since Honda dropped incentives slightly on both cars versus year-ago levels, and dealerships have fewer of both to sell. The Accord, once a perennial best-seller, remains off the list for the third month in a row. Sales dipped 2.4%, but a redesigned Accord is due this fall.
AAA reports the national price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas rose 17 cents in February. Unsurprisingly, shoppers moved toward fuel-efficient choices. January's 10 best-sellers included five SUVs or pickup trucks. This month, that figure dropped to four. Sales of the Toyota Prius, which is still the most fuel-efficient car without a plug, jumped 52.1% and landed the car just two spots off the list. Given that analysts say gas prices could spike even higher, the Prius could soon make its first appearance on the best-sellers' list since October 2009.
GM sales improved just 1.1%, but Ford sales improved 14.4% to remain America's second-place automaker for the first two months of 2012. Witness the shift in the redesigned Ford Focus, which was starved for inventory through much of last year. It overtook the rival Chevrolet Cruze for the first time since the 2012 Focus arrived last April, with sales improving 114.6%. GM's only solace? Cruze sales come with little incentive, while Ford discounts the Focus as much as $2,000. That's about even with a year ago, but a lot of incentives for a redesigned compact.
Behind GM and Ford, Toyota sales improved 12.4%, while hard-charging Chrysler gained 40.4%. Honda, Nissan and Hyundai round out the top seven carmakers in February sales, and they are in the same order as in January's list. Including its Kia affiliate, Hyundai sales improved 26.0%, the second-largest increase of the top seven automakers.
Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey