Auto sales rev up in May, hauled by pickups, luxury cars

A 2013 Dodge Ram pickup truck is seen in Gaithersburg, Maryland,May 1, 2013.
A 2013 Dodge Ram pickup truck is seen in Gaithersburg, Maryland,May 1, 2013.GARY CAMERON / Reuters

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By Joseph Szczesny

Neither budget cuts, nor sluggish job growth, nor a mediocre recovery could keep Americans out of the showrooms in May as they boosted sales of pickup trucks and luxury cars at the major automakers.

General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group, all posted sales increases for May.

Ford led the way as its sales increased 14 percent in May, with cars up 9 percent, utilities up 15 percent and trucks up 18 percent. Retail sales increased 17 percent, marking the best May retail sales results since 2005.

“F-Series sales – fueled by construction growth and pent-up demand – reached their highest level in more than six years,” said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service. Ford also reported the mid-sized Ford Fusion had its best month ever, posting sales of 29,553 vehicles – with its strongest areas of sales growth in the western and southeastern areas of the U.S.

Ford bested its previous full-year hybrid sales record in just the first five months of 2013. The results were driven by the product strength of its new electrified vehicle lineup, including Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Ford C-MAX Energi, Ford Fusion Hybrid and Ford Fusion Energi, as well as Lincoln MKZ Hybrid.

Chrysler reported an 11 percent increase in U.S. sales, compared with sales in May 2012 and the group’s best May sales since 2007.

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While the Jeep, Dodge, Ram Truck and Fiat brands each posted year-over-year sales gains in May compared with the same month a year ago, the Ram Truck brand’s 24 percent increase was the largest sales gain of any Chrysler Group brand in May. Chrysler Group extended its streak of year-over-year sales gains to 38 consecutive months in May.

“Our best May sales in six years enabled us to extend our sales streak to 38 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains,” said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales. “We continue to see strong retail sales throughout our product lineup as eight Chrysler Group vehicles set sales records in May, including best sales ever by the Jeep Wrangler and Compass.”

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GM also posted a 3 percent sales increase, overcoming some weakness in the passenger car side where sales of the Malibu fell 36 percent and Impala dropped 18 percent.

“Cadillac is growing faster than it has in almost 40 years, the pickup rebound is in full swing and we’re seeing strong retail demand for our crossovers,” said Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations.

“These are all powerful signs that the gradual recovery in the economy is becoming more broad-based.”

GM’s trucks sales were up 15 percent versus a year ago, including a 23 percent increase for large pickups and a 30 percent increase for large SUVs, the automaker reported.

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The strong sales pace also boosted sales by Nissan, which reported a double digit sales increases set a May U.S. sales record with 114,457 deliveries, an increase of 24.7 percent over May 2012.

Jose Munoz, senior vice president for Sales and Marketing, Nissan Americas said: “We are in the midst of launching five all-new, top-selling Nissan models in 15 months, and the effort is paying off. Altima, Pathfinder and Sentra, the first three of these launches, are up a combined 64.6 percent in May, which shows that our new products are hitting the sweet spot of delivering the innovation, style and value that buyers want.”

In another sign of health for the industry, the estimated average transaction price for light vehicles in the United States was $31,377 in May 2013, up $152 (0.5 percent) from last month and up $103 (0.3 percent) year-over-year, according to Kelley Blue Book.

“Modest improvements in the economy, coupled with pent-up demand and top-notch product offerings are bringing shoppers back to market,” said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst of automotive insights for Kelley Blue Book. “Increasing transaction prices showcase this marketplace as consumers return for their next new vehicle before summer.”

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Volkswagen of America, Inc. reported a 1.7 percent drop in sales.

“We saw an uptick in our consumer traffic and closing rates this month which allowed us to set new records for Jetta and Passat,” said Jonathan Browning, President and CEO Volkswagen Group of America.

“In a month in which the industry saw strong growth in the pickup truck segments, an area in which we do not compete, we are pleased to see healthy consumer demand for our passenger cars, especially the growing demand for our TDI Clean Diesels and Hybrid line up.”

Audi, on the other hand, reported May 2013 sales of 13,228 vehicles, a 15 percent increase over the previous May record set last year. It was the 29th consecutive monthly record for the brand.