Toyota, Chrysler lead strong May auto sales
Toyota Prius C / Toyota Motor Sales
(MoneyWatch) Strong May vehicle sales at Toyota (TM) and Chrysler are leading robust growth across the U.S. auto sector.
Toyota sales rose 87 percent over the level in May 2011, when the Japanese automaker's production was curtailed by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, according to data out today. Chrysler sales are up 30 percent, continuing a run of 12 straight months of 20 percent or higher gains following its 2009 bankruptcy and federal bailout.
General Motors (GM) and Ford (F) also reported double-digit gains. GM sold 246,479 vehicles, an increase of 11 percent over a year ago and the company's strongest monthly total since August 2009. Sales of small and compact cars at GM rose 16 percent, with the new Chevrolet Sonic subcompact leading the way. Ford sales rose 13 percent.
Strong auto sales continued even as some economic indicators weakened, such as the paltry 69,000 jobs created in May.
With gas prices falling back from their near $4-a-gallon highs, pickup truck sales rose sharply. Sales of Ford's F-series pickups are 29 percent higher than last year, and GM pickups gained 23 percent.
Chrysler sales were its highest May total in five years. The Jeep Wrangler led the way with 44 percent gains over a year earlier and the most monthly sales ever for the vehicle. A broad range of models also showed double-digit gains, including the Ram pickup, Chrysler 300 sedan, and Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans.
Sales of Toyota's Prius hybrid, which were in short supply a year ago, have been particularly strong. The new, small member of that family, the Prius C, is off to a strong start. The company will offer details on specific model sales later today.
Analysts forecasting overall auto industry sales for May believe the total could be up 30 percent over a year ago when all sales are reported. Based on projections, research firm LMC Automotive has raised its sales forecast for all of 2012 to 14.5 million, compared with 12.8 million in 2011. LMC analyst Jeff Schuster raised that target based not only on sales trend to date, but also what he called "stability in economic fundamentals required to sustain a higher selling rate throughout the remainder of the year."
One factor in strong May sales could be increased rebates and other incentives to entice buyers. Ford and Nissan both increased their incentives by more than 9 percent over April, according to Edmunds.com. Honda (HMC) incentives were up 23 percent and Toyota's 16 percent over May 2011.
Edmunds projected that GM would keep its lead, with 17.7 percent share of the May market, though that is down from 20.8 percent a year ago. Ford is forecast to remain second with 16 percent market share and Toyota third with 14.8 percent. Chrysler's share is estimated at 11.8 percent, according to Edmunds.
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