Ford Motor Co. reported a 43% U.S. sales gain in February as it leaped over rival General Motors Co. in monthly sales, according to Automotive News.
Ford sold 142,006 light vehicles last month — 471 more than GM, which advanced 12%. It was Ford’s fifth straight monthly increase in its home market.
The last time Ford topped GM in monthly sales appears to have been July 1998, when GM was crippled by a strike at its Delphi parts unit. GM has been No. 1 annually since 1931.
On an industrywide basis, analysts expect U.S. auto sales to be near a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 10.4 million, down from January but higher than year-earlier levels when sales rates were near the bottom of the deepest downturn in almost three decades.
Heavy snow froze dealership traffic in many mid-Atlantic states for several days in February, further depressing sales in “what is proving to be a very fragile recovery,” said Jack Nerad, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com.
The month’s big question was how much sales at Toyota Motor Corp. were affected by its recalls. Grappling with its biggest safety crisis in history, Toyota is expected to be one of only two major automakers — along with Chrysler Group — to report sales declines for the month.
The industry tracking firm Edmunds.com sees Toyota’s market share dropping to 12.6% in February, its lowest level since July 2005. The world’s biggest automaker accounted for 17% of U.S. sales for all of 2009.
Far from 2008
While GM’s overall February sales rose, demand is still about half of pre-recession levels. GM sold 141,535 light vehicles last month, vs. 268,737 in February 2008.
A combined 33% advance at Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC more than made up for an 86% drop at the automaker’s four canceled brands: Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn. GM released its results four hours earlier than usual today.
Ford’s February climb came on top of a 25% January increase and a 33% rise in December.
Subaru, the only brand to lift U.S. sales in each of the past two years, soared 38% in February.
“The pace of the recovery has hit a speed bump,” Jeff Schuster, forecasting director at J.D.Power and Associates, said before today’s results were released.
“This hiccup appears to be the result of consumers waiting out the Toyota recalls and winter storms impacting showroom traffic.”
U.S. auto sales are expected to rise more than 10% to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of about 10.5 million vehicles in February, according to analysts surveyed by Reuters. A Bloomberg News poll of eight analysts projected a SAAR of 10.3 million.
That would mark an improvement from 9.05 million a year earlier but a decline from 10.5 million in January.
Analysts expect Toyota’s February sales to drop at least 10% from the previous February.
Ford, Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. were projected to be the big winners, posting sales gains of 20-40% in February, according to Edmunds.com. The analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had pegged Ford’s gain at 33%.
But dealers and analysts said rivals have had limited success in poaching customers from Toyota, with most customers delaying any decision to abandon the automaker.
“There is a wait-and-see approach by Toyota loyalists,” said Chris Hopson, an analyst with IHS Global Insight. “They want to see how this plays out before making a buying decision.”
Toyota shut down sales of its most popular vehicles in the last week of January, including Camrys and Corollas, while dealers fixed sticky accelerator pedals in the recalled vehicles.
Winnebago Industries Inc. was once again recognized by Ford Motor Co. for receiving the “fully meets” classification as part of its Truck Quality Program.
The Truck Quality Program is the highest honor awarded to vehicle modifiers, according to a Winnebago news release. It is based on an assessment of a modifier’s engineering capability, design and build process controls, management commitment and quality control procedures.
According to Ford, the purpose of this program is to assure vehicle modifiers have the capability and processes in place to complete the vehicle in a repeatable manner that maintains the integrity of the Ford chassis system, meets federal and other standards in place at the time of the build and provides end users with a quality-built vehicle that meets their expectations. Winnebago Industries has received this award since the program’s inception in 1997.
“We are extremely proud to earn the ‘fully meets’ classification from Ford’s Truck Quality Program,” said Chuck Hughes, Winnebago Industries’ director of quality control. “We believe we have excelled in this program due to the advanced technology we utilize in the development and manufacturing process of our motorhomes with industry-leading designs, as well as by employing seasoned manufacturing engineering staffs and manufacturing management with the commitment to adhere to these stringent guidelines. Winnebago Industries also has ingrained a philosophy of continual improvement into all areas of the company.
“We work closely with our suppliers, such as Ford, to maintain the integrity of the purchased components in order to provide a superior product for our customers in the market place. The vehicle chassis is a critical element in our motor home design and we put a lot of time and effort into achieving these exemplary ratings from Ford. It continues to be a priority for us in order to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations for the quality found in each Winnebago and Itasca motor home that we build.”
The V-8 engine, powerplant of choice for several generations of RVers and the public at large, may be going the way of leaded gasoline.
According to a report in Automotive News, a panel of experts speaking Tuesday (April 21) at the 2009 SAE World Congress believe that tightening emissions standards and volatile fuel prices could spell the end for a nearly century-old engine design that first piqued interest in a big way with the introduction of the Chevrolet overhead-valve V-8 in 1955.
At least one panelist, Mary Ann Wright, CEO of the Johnson Controls-Saft joint-venture battery company, referenced an April 17 ruling by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases endanger the public. The ruling is expected to lay the groundwork for further reductions in such emissions.
“You are going to see the discussion starting to shift to not only reducing fuel consumption but CO2,” Wright said.
As noted during the panel discussion, contemporary engine technology, combined with lighter-weight vehicles, improved vehicle aerodynamics and more efficient transmissions, would be able to effectively counteract the need for larger-displacement engines without adversely affecting acceleration and towing performance.
However, while speakers such as Don Kapp, Ford Motor Co.’s director of powertrain research and advanced engineering, extolled the virtues of such breakthrough technology as Ford’s EcoBoost – a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter engine that produces 355 hp, about the same as a V-8 – no one apparently addressed the torque values of such designs. While V-8 engines are seldom used today in automobiles, they remain a cornerstone for light-truck sales due to the engine’s ability to create large amounts of torque – pulling power – at relatively low engine rpm.
Developing technology wasn’t the only topic under discussion. According to Minoru Shinohara, a senior vice president at Nissan Motor Co., driver behavior is yet another factor in vehicle efficiency that needs to be addressed. Nissan is working on a number of in-car technologies aimed at improving feedback to the driver, including:
- An accelerator pedal that pushes back slightly when speed is increased too much.
- An Ecometer that keeps the driver informed about vehicle performance.
- Carwings, a program that alerts drivers to traffic congestion along a computed route and selects alternative paths.
Other technologies presented included a chain-driven starter-alternator by supplier BorgWarner Inc. intended to eliminate fan belts. The company also is researching more efficient turbochargers and transmissions.
“Turbocharged engines offer 15% to 30% better fuel economy and as much as 20% reduction in CO2 emissions,” said Roger Wood, executive vice president of turbo and emissions systems for BorgWarner, in predicting that the use of turbochargers would grow by 135% by 2014. Meanwhile, Uwe Grebe, executive director for advanced engineering for General Motors Corp., suggested that smaller turbocharged engines could account for as much as 20% of the market by 2014.
Ironically, Detroit automakers previously embraced turbocharging as a way of developing horsepower in smaller engines in the 1970s when Mideast oil embargos caused similar fuel cost spikes. But the technology was later abandoned in all but a few cases as fuel prices moderated.