U.S. cars lose appeal as buyers go for imports

Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. have regained ground with July sales.
Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. have regained ground with July sales. (ITSUO INOUYE / AP)
Posted: August 03, 2012

DETROIT - Just when Detroit seemed to be luring them away, Americans are embracing Japanese cars again.

Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. lost ground last year after the Japanese earthquake limited their supplies. But July's U.S. sales show they've nearly regained what they lost, at the expense of General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co.

GM sales fell 6 percent and Ford sales were down 4 percent compared with last July. Honda's sales were up 45 percent and Toyota jumped 26 percent. Overall car and truck sales rose 9 percent to 1.15 million, according to Autodata Corp.

"Toyota and Honda have regained all of the share they lost, and much faster than we thought they would," said Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence for the car buying site TrueCar.com.

Toprak and others thought that newer, better products at GM and Ford, such as the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus small cars, might permanently draw customers from the Japanese after the earthquake disrupted supplies.

But rivals' gains haven't lasted. The Cruze, the best-selling subcompact in the country last July, saw sales plummet 40 percent last month. It was far outsold by the Honda Civic, whose sales jumped more than 78 percent to just over 25,000. The Toyota Corolla also topped the Cruze and Focus, even though it's an older car with fewer features.

Toyota held 14.3 percent of the U.S. market in July, up from 12.3 percent a year ago and back to pre-earthquake levels. GM had a 17.4 percent share, which matched its pre-earthquake level and was down from 20.3 percent last July.

GM and Ford blamed their slowdowns on lower sales to government, corporate and rental car fleets. Ford said its fleet sales were down 16 percent for the month, while GM's fell 15 percent.

But GM also saw declines for its Buick, GMC and Chevrolet brands. Only Cadillac was up 21 percent, thanks to the new XTS sedan.

At Ford, the Lincoln luxury brand fell 11 percent, dragging down sales. Sales of the Escape small SUV were down 12 percent after the new version, which reached dealerships in June, was recalled for safety problems. Ford's best performer was the Fusion sedan, which saw sales climb 21 percent.

Other carmakers reporting sales Wednesday.

Chrysler, the third biggest U.S. automaker, saw sales rise 13 percent, led by strong demand for its Ram pickup and Chrysler 200 sedan.

Nissan's sales rose 16 percent thanks to a big jump at the luxury Infiniti brand, which has several new products.

Volkswagen's sales rose 27 percent, led by the new Passat midsize sedan.

Hyundai sales rose 4 percent thanks to strong sales of the new Elantra sedan.

Subaru of America Inc., of Cherry Hill, said U.S. sales rose 16 percent on higher demand for its Impreza and Outback models.

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