Car Sales Return To Pre-Recession Levels Despite VW Sucking It Up

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1st Gear: Black Friday Helped Drive Sales

Not since the heady pre-recession days have we seen cars flying out of lots so quickly, with most automakers beating their analyst estimates. Chrysler was up 16% year-over-year, with GM not far behind at 14%. Both Toyota and Nissan moved 10% more models than the prior year.

Overall, SAAR reached a robust 15.8 million.

The reason? Black Friday was a great day for car sales, with dealers getting in on the action and getting people into dealerships. In an attempt to get rid of inventory, there's been aggressive financing but, as Bloomberg reports, fewer incentives than in past years.

Automakers in the U.S. have largely refrained from excessive discounts since the restructurings of Chrysler and Detroit-based GM. Incentives per vehicle through October averaged $2,552, according to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata, less than the $2,776 average promotion in 2009, the year those two companies went through bankruptcy.

Hyundai and Kia also exceeded estimates by, you know, not losing sales. Subaru was up a crazy 29.9%. For ze Germans, Audi up 13.4% and Mercedes climbed 14.4% thanks to help from the CLA.

They're learning! So who were the losers?

2nd Gear: Volkswagen And BMW Have Problems


Well, Volkswagen has a problem and BMW has an opportunity.

The good news? The Beetle sold well, up 43% year-over-year on the back of the redesign. The bad news? Pretty much everything else. The Passat clunked along at a 15.8% year-over-year decrease and the Jetta dropped 12.9%. Overall, the brand was down 16.3%.


VW needs a strategy that involves making great cars that are relatively cheap, not cheap cars that used to have a great name. The Passat is fine, but you can't out-Camry the Camry on value if you're Volkswagen. Imagine if VW built a Fusion?

BMW's problem isn't as dire, with the BMW brand up 1.7%. Their SUVs are aging and people seem to be waiting for the new Mini, which should help boost the brand if it's a success.


Mazda was also down 4.5%, but the Mazda6 was up 202.5% and the CX5 marked a 50.1% increase reports USA Today.

The issue? The company blames inventory shortages for the new Mazda3, which is fantastic. Seems plausible.


3rd Gear: Honda's A Push For November


This may sound backwards, but Honda was down last month as Acura was up. Breaking down the numbers, Honda was ultimately off 0.1% over last year, which still puts it as the second-best November ever.

Honda's biggest seller, the Civic, dropped 13% year-over-year, as the brand keeps trying to get it just right with constant updates and redesigns until it hits that Goldilocks point.


Via Automotive news, Honda's sales honcho John Mendel said in a statement:

"We likely extended our retail sales lead despite very aggressive market actions by competitors in key high-volume segments," Mendel said. "And we're upping the ante as we approach the close of the year with a significantly updated 2014 Civic going on sale in just a few days."


Acura was up, though with MDX and RDX pushing sales up 19%. Acura is still good at crossovers, it just needs to get better at cars.

4th Gear: Ford Learns A Lesson From The Past


Despite a 7.1% increase in sales last month, Ford says they're going to cut inventory between January and March. Why? C.R.E.A.M.

As Karl Henkel reports, Ford's increases are still below the industry as a whole and it doesn't want to be in the position of hanging on to too much inventory it's then going to have to unload at a discount.


What Ford has done so well compared to everyone else is making a profit and there's no point in risking that. Also, the new Mustang and F-150 aren't going to hit the streets until later in 2014, which means it could be a mediocre winter and early spring for Ford.

5th Gear: A Bleak Look At Mexican Car Safety


This report from the AP on Mexico's safety regulations points out that, depending on the market, manufacturers there push out cars that vary wildly in terms of protection for passengers.

While cars sent to the U.S. or Mexico get airbags and stability control and antilock brakes, if the car is going to Latin America it could have almost none of those things.


Certainly, we like the idea of stripped down cars for certain vehicles and certain people, but in Mexico they just barely have a seat belt requirement, and even that doesn't include three-point shoulder belts for child seats.

Similarly, the basic version of the Chevrolet Aveo, which has been revamped and renamed Sonic, sells for about $14,000 in the U.S. and comes with 10 air bags, antilock brakes and traction control. Its Mexican equivalent, the country's top-selling car, doesn't have those protections and costs $400 less.


The dream of buying cars directly from Mexico isn't a perfect dream.

Reverse: Car Bombs Go Way Back

"Dapper Dan" Hogan, a St. Paul, Minnesota saloonkeeper and mob boss, is killed on this day in 1928 when someone plants a car bomb under the floorboards of his new Paige coupe. Doctors worked all day to save him—according to the Morning Tribune, "racketeers, police characters, and business men" queued up at the hospital to donate blood to their ailing friend—but Hogan slipped into a coma and died at around 9 p.m. His murder is still unsolved.



Neutral: Which Automaker Has The Best Strategy? GM? Ford? Chrysler? Toyota? Honda? Subaru, maybe? Who is balancing new models, enthusiast demands, and inventory/profits?


Photo Credit: AP Images

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