Chrysler Group sales jumped 10.9% in the U.S. in February on a daily-rate basis and General Motors outperformed expectations, but a couple of critical models continue to lag for the two Detroit automakers.
In GM’s case, its fullsize pickups that appear to be missing the mark. For Chrysler, it’s the Dodge Dart small car, a key model in the heart of the market that continues to lag.
Also on the watch list is Volkswagen’s Passat, the brand’s all-important entry in the midsize-sedan sector and the linchpin of its operations in Chattanooga, TN.
Overall, GM sold 222,104 light vehicles in February, a 1.0% decline from like-2013 that was better than the 9.5% dip WardsAuto had forecast. It was a late-month surge, likely inspired by industrywide incentives, that helped the automaker close the gap with year-ago.
“Weather continued to impact the industry in February, but GM sales started to thaw during the Winter Olympic Games as our brand and marketing messages took hold,” Kurt McNeil, GM vice president-Sales Operations, says in a statement.
Overall, Buick by far was the best-performing brand for the automaker, with sales up 18.8%. Declining minimally were GMC (0.6%), Cadillac (3.0%) and Chevrolet (2.9%).
But the big concern likely centers on new-for-’14 Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra demand. Combined, the new pickups suffered an 8.9% decline in sales on a daily basis, despite incentives reportedly reaching as high as $9,000 per unit. That followed an anemic January performance in which sales were off 20.4% from like-2013.
A GM spokesman says demand has been weakest for trucks with smaller cabs and V-6 engines, an indication, the automaker believes, that many price-sensitive buyers were pulled ahead into purchasing outgoing models during GM’s discounted sell-down last year.
He points to a “low-but-growing” awareness of the Silverado/Sierra’s new improved V-6 as a positive sign for coming months. The V-6 accounted for 20% of the pickups’ retail mix in February, up two points from January.
Ford, which reportedly has placed up to $8,000 on the hood of its outgoing F-Series models, posted a 2.1% rise in daily fullsize pickup sales, and Chrysler saw Ram deliveries surge 25.3%, according to WardsAuto data, its best February in eight years.
Overall, Chrysler’s strong month was driven by a whopping 47.4% spike in Jeep sales.
“The severe weather has been ideally suited for our legendary Jeep 4x4 capability,” says Chrysler Group U.S. sales chief Reid Bigland, who notes the performance was the brand’s best February ever.
Only the Dodge marque posted a decline in the month (down 10.6% daily), with the critical Dart, Chrysler’s first big play in the car sector since emerging from bankruptcy, continuing to struggle.
Dart sales fell 36.7% vs. year-ago and are off 33.2% through the first two months of the year. Compare that with Chevrolet Cruze sales, up 21.2% in February and 19.1% for the year to date. Even the 23.5% decline in Ford Focus deliveries looks relatively benign vs. the Dart’s performance, and the segment overall was down just 5.5% heading into the month.
Some of the Dart’s weak showing might be attributable to the Dodge Journey, which also appears to be getting a boost from the weather and an industrywide migration from small cars to CUVs. Journey demand rose 5.8% daily in February. Chrysler says the sell-down on the outgoing Avenger midsize car, which saw sales jump 71% from January levels, also pulled some buyers away from the Dart.
VW, plagued in part by an aging lineup, continues to struggle in the U.S., with sales falling 13.8% overall vs. like-2013.
But more critical is the 7.1% dip in Passat volume to just 6,997 units, far below the 9,000-10,000-per-month initial sales target. By contrast, Chevrolet Malibu sales surged 17.8% in February, though overall the segment has been weak so far in 2014.