Retail Sales Lead US First-Quarter Auto Market Revival

First-quarter light-vehicle sales in the United States were up 18.6% from the same three-month period in 2010, based on our Automotive Forecasting Division analysis. Overall car and light-truck sales advanced to 3.05 million unit sales during the quarter, from 2.5 million units a year ago. Nearly 513,000 more new vehicles were delivered in the quarter than in the first quarter of 2010.

Retail sales led the early 2011 recovery with a 23.0% increase, while fleet sales were up only 4.6%, based on our Power Information Network® (PIN) retail transaction data. Escalating gasoline prices (nationwide average approaching $4.00 per gallon) during the first quarter boosted the Compact segments, which were up 25.4% from the same period a year ago, while the Midsize and Large segments increased only 13.1% and 16.4%, respectively.

In our J.D. Power sales update for March, the final month of the first quarter, total light-vehicle sales averaged a 13.1 million-unit seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR), and March was the second consecutive month that averaged more than a 13.0 million-unit selling rate. Retail sales in March were up a healthy 10.9% from March 2010, and were equal to a 10.7 million-unit SAAR. Fleet sales during the period were flat, although they were stronger than anticipated, and the pace translated to a 2.4 million-unit SAAR in March 2011.

Four Multi-Brand Automakers, One Independent Post First-Quarter Share Gains

All 11 multi-franchise automakers and the four independents posted first-quarter sales gains, but only four multi-franchise manufacturers and one independent increased their market shares in the first three months this year vs. last year.

Chrysler Group, General Motors, and the Hyundai and Nissan Groups all posted sales and share gains. Mitsubishi Motors was the only independent to increase first-quarter sales and share from 2010.

GM and the Hyundai Group posted the largest year-to-date industry share gains in the first quarter of 2011. GM’s market share rose to 19.41% from 18.71% in the same period of 2010, while Hyundai Group’s first-quarter market share rose to 8.10% from 7.41%.

Ford Brand Remains First-Quarter Sales Leader

At the brand level, Ford led in the first quarter, garnering a 15.40% share vs. 14.87% a year ago. The Ford nameplate also was the US market leader in the first quarter of 2010. Chevrolet followed with a 13.64% share, while Toyota (12.24%) and Honda (9.06%) brands garnered third- and fourth-highest-volume industry sales shares.

Among premium marques, Mercedes-Benz was the first-quarter sales leader in 2011, with a 9.3% improvement to 55,993 unit sales. BMW was second with a 12% first-quarter gain from last year, to 52,616 unit sales, and Lexus was third with 47,339 unit deliveries in the first three months of 2011.

Cadillac, which had the fourth-highest sales total among premium brands, posted the biggest year-to-date increase vs. the same period in 2010. The GM luxury brand’s sales were up more than one-third (+36%) from last year. However, two of the eight best-selling premium brands—Lexus and Lincoln—posted declines from a year ago.

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