Auto Sales Pop in February

The recovery appears to have taken firm hold in the auto sector. After a strong January, auto sales jumped again in February. The seven biggest automakers saw combined sales rise by 28.6% year-over-year and 23.9% from January. Let's break down the month's results.

First, here's the chart comparing last month to February 2010:

auto sales 2011-02 year-over-year.png

It's pretty easy to see that General Motors is doing tremendously well compared to a year ago. Its sales were up an amazing 45.8% year-over-year. Toyota also had a big jump, up 41.8%. But that's probably due to timing. February of 2010 was when consumers began to worry about its vehicles safety due to reported accelerator problems. Interestingly, Ford and Chrysler, the other two American automakers, didn't have nearly the pop in sales that GM experienced in February. In fact, they saw the weakest sales gain shown.

Auto sales also looked much better in February compared to January:

auto sales 2011-02 month-over-month.png

This could be due in part to the bad winter weather some regions of the U.S. in January. As you can see, it was a better month across-the-board for automakers. From this measure, Chrysler and Ford look much better. In this chart, Hyundai's month-over-month sales increase is the weakest, which is somewhat surprising considering how rapidly its sales have been growing in recent months. Of course, its performance still looked pretty good year-over-year.

In terms of market share within this universe of seven automakers, here's how last month looked:

auto sales share pie 2011-02.png

GM accounts for nearly one-quarter of the market, while Ford and Toyota ranked second and third. Honda, Chrysler, and Nissan all had around the same portion of sales. Hyundai came in a distant last, accounting for slightly more than 5% of the market.

The market share in February 2011 actually looked pretty different from the share during the same month in 2010:

auto sales share comparison 2011-02.png

GM's big increase in sales earned it nearly 3% more of the market. Most of that came from its domestic brethren Chrysler and Ford, who each lost around 2% of their share. Of course, Toyota's portion of sales also rose significantly, with those safety concerns from last year no longer on the mind of most consumers. The other three foreign automakers saw little year-over-year market change.

Some of the impressive year-over-year sales gains for months in the latter part of 2010 could be blamed on the weak sales in the latter part of 2009 due to the Cash-for-Clunkers hangover. By now, however, that effect should be mostly gone. So far, 2011 has experienced much stronger sales than early 2010. This signifies that Americans are more willing to make a big purchase of a new car or truck. While this is obviously good news for the auto industry, it also confirms the view that many consumers are much more comfortable with their economic situation than they were a year ago.

(Sources: GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Chrysler, Nissan, and Hyundai)

Presented by

Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.

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