Despite larger stumbles by the U.S. economy – especially a far weaker than expected jobs report last month – demand for light trucks remained exceeding robust during the month of May, with Ford Motor Co., General Motors, and Chrysler LLC all reporting mostly double-digit percentage increases in pickup and commercial van sales.
“In spite of a tremendous amount of global economic uncertainty, the U.S. new vehicle sales industry continues to power ahead,” noted Reid Bigland, president and CEO for Dodge and head of U.S. sales for Chrysler.
“Our [overall vehicle] sales in May increased 30% and represent our 26th-consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth,” Bigland added. “We are also in the process of adding production capacity as quickly as possible to meet strong demand for our products.”
Chrysler’s Ram Truck division sold 26,373 units in May, up 23% versus May of 2011 – the truck division’s best May sales total in five years – with year-to-date (YTD) sales reaching 117,373 units, up 20% compared to the same period last year. Sales of Ram’s pickup truck models reached 29,040 units in May – up 29% versus May 2011 – and YTD total 114,630 units, up 27% compared to the same period last year.
Bigland said both Ram light- and heavy-duty pickup trucks posted sales increases in May, with regular cab pickups posting the largest percentage sales increase among light-duty models in May, though quad cabequipped trucks led in volume.
Ford noted that its overall U.S. light vehicle sales reached 216,267 units last month, a 13% increase versus May 2011, with sales of its light-duty trucks increasing 21%. Ford sold 54,836 F-Series pickups in May , a 29.3% increase versus May 2011, with YTD F-Series sales totaling 246,116 units, a 14.8% increase. Sales of its E-Series van topped 14,160 units in May, up 31.4% versus May 2011, with YTD sales at 55,164 units, up 6.4% over the same period last year.
The company noted that its new Transit Connect light van posted its best monthly sales performance ever with 3,937 vans sold, a 52.5% gain versus over May 2011, with YTD sales topping 14,261 units, up 17.2% over the same period last year. While Ford reported heavy truck sales slipped 0.9% to 568 units in May, YTD they are up 17.8% at 2,685 units.
Ford added that, due to such robust sales numbers, it plans to build 690,000 vehicles in the third quarter this year, up 5% or 34,000 units, compared to the third quarter 2011, though it’s leaving unchanged its second quarter production target of 730,000 units.
GM noted its overall U.S. sales in May reached 245,256 vehicles, up 11% year-over-year and the highest monthly total since August 2009 when its dealers delivered 246,479 units. Don Johnson, vp of GM’s U.S. sales operations, added that sales of full-size pickups were up 23%, mid-size pickup sales jumped 34%, and full-size SUVs increased 14%.
“GM’s sales in May were the highest in almost three years,” he reiterated. “About 70% of our nameplates will be new or freshened over the course of 2012 and 2013 and that positions us very well as the industry starts to approach pre-recession sales levels.”
Such truck sales figures from the “Detroit Three” don’t come as a surprise to auto analysts, whose data indicated that May would prove to be a robust month.
J.D. Power and Associates and LMC Automotive both projected light vehicle volumes to increase 20% compared with May 2011, after adjusting for the two additional selling days. “This is the largest year-over-year gain since February 2011, when sales increased 27% compared with February 2010,” noted John Humphrey, senior vp- global automotive operations for J.D. Power.
“The fact that we continue to see strong month-over-month results in retail sales points to the underlying strength of the recovery for the industry going forward,” he added. “In light of the actions that many automakers took to lower their cost base during the recent downturn, this continued increase in volume certainly bodes well for sector profitability in the near term.”
As a result of such robust sales figures, LMC Automotive raised its global light-vehicle sales forecast for 2012 to 14.5 million units, up from of 14.3 million units.
Both firms noted that North American light-vehicle production through April this year is up nearly 22% compared with 2011, as nearly 1 million additional vehicles were built in the first four months of 2012 compared to the same period last year. Growth in U.S. manufacturing leads the overall North America region with a 25% year-to-date increase.
North American production in the second quarter is anticipated to increase by more than 20 % from 2011, with more than 3.8 million units expected to be built, in part because several manufacturers limited normal summer shutdowns this year in order to keep pace with vehicle demand and stabilize inventory throughout the summer selling season, they said.