All signs point toward another strong month for the auto industry. Toyota gained 17 percent as shoppers bought nearly 50,000 Camry sedans, leapfrogging the Chevrolet Silverado to a No. 2 spot in May's best-sellers. Cash incentives on the Camry increased versus year-ago levels, which likely fueled some of the nameplate's 26.4 percent gain. But so did renewed interest in family sedans: The Ford Fusion (up 14.6 percent), Nissan Altima (up 12.9 percent) and Honda Accord (up 19.3 percent) drew more shoppers, too.
Nissan's 18.8 percent gain led the top seven automakers, while big increases from its Jeep and Ram divisions lifted Chrysler sales 16.7 percent. The Ram pickup truck gained 17.2 percent, the biggest percentage gain of any full-size pickup. Its rival Ford F-Series dropped 4.3 percent; no doubt shoppers are awaiting a new F-150 that hits dealerships at the end of this year.
Ford, Hyundai-Kia and Honda all gained less than 10 percent, falling below the seven largest automakers' 11.8 percent gain. Still, even the poorest performer (Ford) saw sales up 3 percent.
Then there's GM.
Shoppers drove up the General's sales by 12.6 percent as the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Cruze found a significant crop of new buyers. The 1500 versions of the pickups have been redesigned, but incentives and inventory didn't change a great deal compared to year-ago levels for all three. Oh, and the elephant in the room — GM's 13.8 million U.S. recalls thus far in 2014 — appears to have kept few shoppers away.
Why? Because most GM cars sold while the recalls were issued are unaffected.
Believe it. The recalls affect scores of Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Pontiac and Saturn vehicles that date all the way back to the 2003 model year. But the actual number of recalled cars is less because many of 2014's recalls involve multiple notices on the same car. (GM doesn't have that number, citing that it would require VIN-by-VIN coding.)
And GM has sold more than 38 million cars in the U.S. since the 2003 calendar year. Of course, some of those cars — as well as some of the recalled models — are no longer on the road because of crashes, crippling breakdowns and the like. But any way you cut it, it’s safe to say that most, and possibly the vast majority, of GM cars sold since 2003 have not been recalled this year. That means most GM owners remain unaffected, and a lot of them — plus scores of shoppers new to the brand — visited Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC showrooms all month long.
GM dealers may not have put out all their sales flags just yet, but you might see a few more of those flags at your local auto mall. That's because the average car in early May sold for $32,217, according to CNW Research; that's down $209 versus May 2013, and much of it comes because of incentives. Dealers and automakers combined for $6,100 in total incentives per car in May (including traditional incentives plus things like no-charge options, higher trade-in values and discount financing) — up nearly $600 versus year-ago levels.
Here are May 2014's top 10 best-selling cars:
Cars.com photo by Kelsey Mays