Anibal Ortiz / KPCC
The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle at the LA Auto Show. VW had another great month for U.S. sales. But it wasn't alone.
The major automakers that sell cars in North America have all reported their November sales figures. Those sales are pretty much booming. The industry is on a pace to sell more than 15 million vehicles for all of 2012; that's a substantial increase over last year's 13 million, but not as torrid as 2005's all-time high of 17 million.
The big story was Honda, an automaker that's endured something of an identity crisis of late and that lost a lot of U.S. market share in the aftermath of 2011's Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Honda's November sales hit an all-time high. Of the more one million vehicles sold in the U.S. in November, almost 120,000 were Hondas. And year-over-year, Honda witnessed November sales leap by nearly 40 percent.
"Honda definitely has momentum in the marketplace," said industry analyst Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.com. She added that Honda was the bestselling auto brand in the areas hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy, and that a combination of the Accord sedan, the CR-V compact SUV, and the revamped Civic (revamped after a tepid entry to the market last year) all helped Honda to rack up good sales.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Ford saw fairly weak year-over-years sales improvements for October but still hung into its number two spot in the ferociously competitive U.S. market.
October U.S. auto sales are in the books, as every carmaker who sells vehicles has now reported.
Some of the notables were Chrysler, with a 10.2 percent increase over last year, its best October since 2007; Volkswagen, with a 20.4 percent surge from last year; and Toyota, whose nearly 16 percent uptick year-over-year shows that the biggest Japanese automaker is poised to regain the market share it lost to General Motors and Ford after the tsunami and earthquake last year.
The real story is how tightly bunched GM, Ford, and Toyota are in terms of U.S. market share. They aren't separated by much more than a point or two: GM has about 18 percent, Ford has 15-and-a-half; and Toyota has about 14.
That's more than a third of the market right there. The remaining two-thirds is being fought over, at various price levels, by no less than 17 automakers. Okay, you can take Ferrari and Maserati out of the competition — neither marque sells more than 300 cars a month. But other companies are aiming to compete and compete vigorously, if the world's most competitive auto market.
Steven Rattner, the Obama Administration's "car czar" who oversaw the bankruptcies and bailouts of both General Motors and Chrysler, went on CNBC this morning talking about what he described as General Motors' "stretch goal" of $10 billion in profits and a 10 percent profit margin in 2012 (and beyond). Rattner also took the opportunity to ding Mitt Romnney for his "flip-flops" on whether the bailouts were a good thing (read all about them here on the op-ed page of the New York Times). GM is expected to report an $8 billion profit for 2011, so it's getting much tougher to argue that this is a company that shouldn't have been allowed to survive.
Rattner is obviously proud of his work and has good reason modestly boast while supporting GM's "energy and ambition." But I think he might be wrong to side with a Wall Street Journal piece (sorry, can't find the link) that insists GM should never again focus on market share over profitability. The idea here is that making money is more important than pursuing an abstract number that doesn't necessarily contribute to the bottom line. After all, you could have 10 percent share of the U.S. market (GM currently has about 18 percent, down from 21 percent for 2011) and still make a lot of money.
Just having a little fun with Volkswagen here (Das Auto!). The German carmaker wants to knock off General Motors and/or Toyota as the globe's biggest auto company, and while it's doing well in Europe, China, and Latin America, it's been notably less-than-successful in the USA.
VW definitely wants to change that. But with a mere 3 percent of the North American market, it's a tall order. That said, much of that 3 percent seems concentrated in...Southern California. So if the VW plan for world domination is to begin, it will begin in LA. Or at that $1 billion plant they just opened in Tennessee...