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Quake shortages hit Japanese brands in US

Tight: Ford and GM scored a near dead-heat with their hot-selling new small cars, with Ford selling 22,303 Focus cars (left) and GM delivering 22,711 Cruze sedans.

American market dips as stock shortages and fuel prices hit May sales

General News logo2 Jun 2011

JAPANESE brands were hammered in the United States last month as stock shortages caused by the March earthquake and tsunami dragged down May sales volumes.

While overall sales dipped only four per cent to 1.06 million vehicles in May, Toyota sales plummeted 33 per cent, Honda’s slid 22 per cent and Nissan’s tumbled nine per cent.

The biggest hit was taken by Lexus, down 45 per cent, but Mitsubishi appeared to be immune, up 60 per cent, although on small numbers.

Toyota says the worst of the parts supply ructions are now behind it, with plants recovering quicker than expected.

The company says production at its Japanese factories should be at 90 per cent this month, when eight of its 12 North American plants should be back at 100 per cent.

In May, Toyota’s biggest sellers, the US-built Camry and Corolla, both lost more than 30 per cent of their sales volume compared with May 2010, with Camry – its long-time best-selling passenger car in the US – dipping from 29,295 units last year to 18,830 last month.

Remarkably, both cars are still on par with last year’s sales year to date, as is Toyota as a whole.

80 center imageFrom top: 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion, Kia Optima.

At Honda, its Ohio-built Accord and Civic took similar hits last month, down 34.5 per cent and 30.2 per cent respectively as production slowed.

Korean sister companies Hyundai and Kia appear to have taken advantage of the Japanese misfortune, with sales up 21 and 53 per cent respectively, to record levels.

Combined, Hyundai/Kia recorded 107,426 sales in the US, beating American Honda for the first time and coming within a few hundred units of matching Toyota’s 108,387 group sales, including Lexus and Scion.

Sales of the new Hyundai Elantra – due on sale here next month - more than doubled, to 20,006 units, while the Sonata – known at the i45 in Australia – maintained its heady form with 22,754 sales in May.

At Kia, sale of the new Optima were up 124 per cent while new Sportage volumes soared 172 per cent.

Market leaders General Motors and Ford were restrained by falling sales of their full-sized pick-ups due to rising fuel prices, with GM sales slipping one per cent, to 221,192 vehicles, and Ford down three per cent, to 192,102.

However, the two Detroit leaders made up most of the leeway with growing sales of their booming small cars as Americans finally embrace small four-cylinder cars en masse.

In what is shaping as the stoush of the year, GM and Ford scored a near dead-heat with their hot-selling new small cars, with GM delivering 22,711 Cruze sedans and Ford selling 22,303 Focus cars.

While Ford sold 24,666 mid-sized Fusions, GM countered with 25,600 Malibus, setting up another big battle, especially with the arrival of Chevrolet’s new Malibu (which will replace Holden’s Epica in Australia next year).

The blip in sales for Toyota and Honda – the two biggest Japanese-based car-makers in the US – allowed the reborn Chrysler to slip back into third place, with 115,363 sales – up 10 per cent on the same month last year.

The Chrysler charge was led by Jeep, up 55 per cent, with the new Grand Cherokee jumping 192 per cent and the Compass up 92 per cent.

The new Chrysler 200 was the top-selling Chrysler brand car, with 7098 sales - more than double the 2010 May sales of the car it replaced, the Sebring.

Year to date, the Detroit ‘big three’ car companies are all ahead of last year’s tally, with GM up 19 per cent, Ford up nine per cent and Chrysler up 20 per cent.

Overall US sales are up 14 per cent, to 5.2 million units for the first five months, and most analysts believe the market will still top 12 million vehicles for the year.

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