Scott Burgess, former auto critic for The Detroit News, has joined the AOL Autos / Autoblog team. He is a veteran automotive journalist with six years in Detroit covering the auto industry and a Michigan native. Each month he'll dig deeper into the industry's sales figures and file this By The Numbers special report.



Now that I've figured out how to open my email, what in fact my email address is, and where the office is, I've been able to catch my breath and go through the February sales figures.

Lots of people were excited over the February sales numbers, which were the highest since 2009, declaring the end of tough times and announcing only big profits ahead.

Then again, that may not be exactly true. Yes, it was a 15-million-a-year sales pace, outperforming everyone's expectations with sales jumping 15.7 percent compared to the same month last year. But people are waiting to buy cars like never before. The average age of a vehicle on the road is over 10 years old, a trend growing for nearly 20 years, according to a Polk research firm study. Polk says that people are just hanging onto vehicles longer because they're worried about the economy. To think about how different times were 10.8 years ago – Ford Motor Co. had just (re)introduced the all new Fabulous Thunderbird, which, someone is holding onto right now.

So the depression/recession party may not be over, but times are still good. Here are the things I learned by examining the February sales figures.


1. LOTS OF PEOPLE WANT CARS

This February, cars outsold trucks 53.3 to 46.7 percent.

Throughout the industry, car sales jumped 23.9 percent compared to February last year. (Truck sales rose 7.6 percent.)

There are lots of reasons for the jump, though my gut says that people buying new vehicles are also listening to the fear mongering concerning climbing gas prices. Don't expect either trend to end any time soon.

A more important trend might be that in February 2011, trucks outsold cars 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. This February, cars outsold trucks 53.3 percent to 46.7 percent.

However, the big difference between 2008 and 2012, the last time gas prices skyrocketed, are that Detroit's carmakers have a solid collection of little cars ranging from the Ford Fiesta and Focus to the Chevy Cruze and soon-to-be released Dodge Dart. More on the Chevy Sonic later. The key for Detroit is to see if people associate fuel efficient vehicles with those brands. When times get tough, people tend to go with the brands they assume are the most efficient, even when they're not.

2. THE NO. 1 SEDAN SOLD IN 2012 WILL BE THE TOYOTA CAMRY

It has taken only two months for the Toyota Camry to begin to pull away from the competition. The Camry, which was redesigned last year, has seen sales jump 38.5 percent during the first two months of the year. It is outselling the Chevrolet Silverado so far this year. By the end of the year, the Camry will once again be the top-selling nameplate in America. (Ford will also be the No. 1 selling brand in 2012.)

Those are not difficult predictions.


3. THE CHEVROLET SONIC IS THE REAL DEAL

I'll readily admit that I like the Chevrolet Sonic. So do a lot of other people. Chevy sold 7,900 Sonics in February, making it the second-best-selling subcompact car in America, behind the cheap and cheerful Nissan Versa, which was the only tiny car to top 10,000 units for the month. The Hyundai Accent was No. 3 at 5,806 units, Ford sold 5,518 Fiestas and Honda sold 4,227 Fits.

Out of all of those vehicles, the Sonic hits a sweet spot somewhere between price and performance. Its continued success proves consumers agree.


4. AMERICAN NEEDS TRUCKS – AT LEAST BUYERS THINK THEY DO

Small pickup sales were impressive, with the segment climbing 19.3 percent.

While truck sales growth was below the industry average, it was the crossover segment that really dragged truck sales down with their segment climbing a scant .4 percent. (Nowadays with so many unibody SUVs, it has gotten much more difficult to determine what really is a truck.)

But trucks, real trucks, ones with beds and four-wheel drive and trailer hitches that can tow a job, saw sales jump. The Ford F-Series climbed 25.9 percent, while Ram truck sales jumped 21.2 percent. Small pickup sales were even more impressive, with the segment climbing 19.3 percent. Toyota Tacoma sales were up 35.3 percent, Chevy Colorado sales were up 35.5 percent, Nissan Frontier sales were up 20.1 percent and even the discontinued Ford Ranger sales were up 18.6 percent. The small truck trend may also suggest people really do want a true small truck, especially when considering rising gas prices. Too bad no truckmaker actually builds a truly small pickup.

One reason pickup sales continued to climb is because pickups are a necessity. People who need a truck can't replace it with any crossover, car or SUV. Pickups do actual work. And even if pickup buyers hold off on buying a truck, eventually, they are going to need one. February numbers show that time has come for nearly 150,000 people.


5. MUSTANG MORE POPULAR THAN LINCOLN – ALL OF THEM

While Ford has been the golden child of the media ever since it didn't file for bankruptcy, it has still struggled to create much of a buzz with its luxury Lincoln brand. There are a multitude of reasons for this, mostly tied to less-than-inspiring vehicles that arrive at dealerships with extremely high prices.

But the venerable Mustang outperformed the entire Lincoln brand in February, nearly doubling its numbers compared to last February, from 3,697 Mustangs in '11 to 7,351 Mustangs in '12. Lincoln, meanwhile increased sales nearly 20 percent to 6,912 units, which wasn't even enough to top 6,923 sales of the Chevrolet Camaro.


6. HYUNDAI IS A GREENER BRAND

Hyundai only sells one hybrid, but is the No. 2 hybrid seller in America.

Move over Toyota, Hyundai's badge may be a touch greener than yours. In fact, while Hyundai only sells one hybrid, a gas-electric version of the Sonata, Hyundai is the No. 2 hybrid seller in America, selling 3,485 units in February. Toyota remains at the top, outselling everyone else combined. The Prius alone, which includes two different models and soon, three, was the 12th most popular vehicle sold in February, selling 20,589 units.

Meanwhile, Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand, offers five different hybrids, and managed just 2,642 units total.

But Hyundai's green street cred doesn't come from its hybrids as much as it does from its 40-mpg Elantra, Veloster and Accent, all gas-powered vehicles that are considerably cheaper.


7. A LITTLE NUMERICAL PERSPECTIVE

Volkswagen may be having another great year – it's sales were up 42.5 percent in February and 45 percent for the year. It sold 30,577 vehicles in February. The entire brand counted as one vehicle would have been the fourth-best-selling vehicle in February, right between the Chevy Silverado and its 32,297 units, and the Honda Civic with its 27,087 units. So be impressed, just don't be overly impressed.


8. A RACE TO THE FINISH

Here's a race that's going to be interesting to follow this year: Does the Ford Explorer outperform the Jeep Grand Cherokee?

Through February, Jeep has a slight lead with 23,407 Grand Cherokees sold to Ford's 20,406 Explorers. And Jeep seems to be just hotter. Sales are up 43.8 percent for the year, while the Explorer's sales are up 20 percent. It's still too close to call.


9. SERGIO SHOULD KEEP SMILING

Chrysler sales were up 40.4 percent for the month and 42 percent for the year.

Sergio Marchionne has earned that big smile on his face. Chrysler Group LLC had, yet again, another big month. Vehicle sales were up 40.4 percent for the month and 42 percent for the year.

All four brands have seen their sales grow and, more importantly, car sales have skyrocketed 125 percent compared to February last year. However, part of that gain is how few cars it sold before. It still sells more than two trucks for every car.

Fortunately for Sergio, the Dodge Dart arrives soon and that will continue to bolster car sales, as it's a top notch compact car. And more is certainly going to come.


10. OTHER NUMBERS

Here are few obscure facts about February sales. The Jeep Wrangler outsold all of Infiniti by 80 vehicles: 9,319 to 9,239.

Cadillac continues to struggle as it waits for the XTS and ATS to arrive. Both of those vehicles will spike the luxury sports carmaker's numbers. But there's lots of ground to make up. Sales dropped 27 percent in February and they're down 27.9 percent for the year. In fact, the Crest and Wreath managed to sell just 11,505 in February. Kia sold 53 more Optimas in the same month.

The Chevy Cruze sold 20,427 units, beating out the 19,987 Chevy Malibus sold. Meanwhile, the Malibu beat out all of Mercedes-Benz vehicles sold (19,690).


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 87 Comments
      e46mike
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ford, are you guys paying attention to this? More Mustangs sold than all of the Lincoln line? This should tell you guys something. I've always had and always will have a Ford Pickup, and I just bought my wife a new Focus, but there is no way in hell that I'd purchase anything that Lincoln is putting out right now.
      Hazdaz
      • 2 Years Ago
      "the big difference between 2008 and 2012, the last time gas prices skyrocketed, are that Detroit's carmakers have a solid collection of little cars" THIS is key to Detroit's and this nation's recovery. It only took them to nearly go out of business for the Detroit carmakers to realize that they absolutely NEED competitive cars in ALL market segments.
        Toneron
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Hazdaz
        What gas prices go up and people go out and buy cars? That is the stupidest thing ever and the "statistics" so obviously manipulated by manufacturers dollars. Sure there is good product out there - but the average Joe is not going to trade in his no-payment car that gets 30 for a $500 payment car that gets 37 when he is unsure of his long term employment Sure people with job security are buying new cars - but not Sonics and Fiestas unless it's for their kids.
          BB79826
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Toneron
          But in 2008, small car sales rocketed and SUV sales plummeted like a rock. That's a fact. Why dispute it?
          Hazdaz
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Toneron
          What? Were you replying to someone else or did you not really have a cohesive point because I'm not really sure what your comment has to do with mine.
          msspamrefuge
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Toneron
          Many 'Average Joes' didn't have paid-off cars during the recession. Along with the typical operational virtues of trucks/SUVS, high resale values encouraged them to buy close enough to the recession's onset that they were blindsided in the middle of their loan term by rising gas prices and falling resale values. Some were pushing the viable financial limits of owning a large vehicle all along, but others didn't want to continue making $500+ a month payments. . .at least not for an increasingly inefficient, expensive to operate vehicle also on its way to coughing up all of its equity or putting them further underwater.
      mjzalucki
      • 2 Years Ago
      The Chrysler brand (27,000 plus units) outsold Buick and Cadillac combined with only 3 models. Hey Scott, how about doing a beakdown by sales category, subcompact, compact, etc. Bet there are al ot of surprises there too.
        axiomatik
        • 2 Years Ago
        @mjzalucki
        With the 200 and Town & Country, Chrysler is considerably more mainstream than either Buick or Cadillac.
      good
      • 2 Years Ago
      Basically my ten year old car - Audi A4 - still runs fine and is in great shape. So does my 13 year old GM pickup, which is the most reliable vehicle I have ever owned. I can't get another car that is as great as my old beloved 323GTX, as nobody is interested in designing and manufacturing a small, lightweight awd car anymore that is not full of non driver oriented junk and distraction. I guess I will keep my old Evo till I croak as well. Bottom line, cars aren't what they used to be. If I want to be entertained while riding in a vehicle, it should be a train. If I want to be entertained while DRIVING a new vehicle, where the hell do I even start to look???
      jonwil2002
      • 2 Years Ago
      The problem with smaller trucks is that every small truck sold is less profit for the automaker vs the large truck that would likely be bought if the small truck wasn't an option.
        ctsmith1066
        • 2 Years Ago
        @jonwil2002
        What you are implying is that full-size pick-ups are overpriced. Yes, yes they are.
      NC1
      • 2 Years Ago
      Regarding the average vehicle age increasing and the statement "Polk says that people are just hanging onto vehicles longer because they're worried about the economy", while there is no doubt some truth to that, I think a bigger factor is cars just last longer these days. In my youth a 10 year old car was usually about shot. But now 10 year old cars are most often still functioning pretty reliably.
      merlot066
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's worth noting that sales of every single one of Lincoln's models increased by a decent amount. When you consider that the Town Car is gone (which now brings them from 6 models down to 5) it's pretty great that they were still able to post a 16% increase. Cadillac had a much rougher month with its 5 models than Lincoln.
        axiomatik
        • 2 Years Ago
        @merlot066
        "Cadillac had a much rougher month with its 5 models than Lincoln." Maybe on a percentage basis. But Cadillac still sold nearly twice as many cars as Lincoln, with the same number of models. In fact, it makes Lincoln's performance even less impressive. When you start with a number so low, any small change is a relatively large percentage.
      Randy
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ya know. I look at Fiesta sales and think 'what a great little car, it's slick, sporty, cool' and it has to have the name "Fiesta". It's an okay name but there's something very 'categorical' about it. As if it the name says something about the driver. They need a more energetic name. I know "Fiesta" is energetic but I mean not so flamboyant! Ya know? Had the name "Evos" not been put on the slammin looking concept, i'd say change it to that. But I want the Ford Evos to be produce so.........
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Randy
        [blocked]
          • 2 Years Ago
          [blocked]
      Chris
      • 2 Years Ago
      What happened to Lincoln? There used to be songs written about them, and now they are all but forgotten. No more Continentals, Towncars, LS, or Mark Series, just a couple plainjane, fwd sedans, two crossovers, and a long in the tooth SUV, most of which bear rather forgettable alphanumeric names. That's downright pathetic when comparing Lincoln's history It's no wonder the Mustang outsold the entire Lincoln lineup, combined. Rather than a bunch of warmed over Ford sedans and CUVs, why no actually start building Lincolns that actually turn heads, like perhaps a new, drop-top Continental with suicide doors, if possible? If they are going to carry anything over from the Ford lineup, it should be none other than the Mustang. They can offer it in both coupe and sedan form and call it a Mark lX, Capri, or what ever they want, just so long as it makes for a viable CTS-V competitor. Maybe if they did those two things, and did more to separate the rest of the lineup from Ford, they might actually become relevant again.
        efrost96
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Chris
        Ford focused on their core brand and Lincoln is just an afterthought. They need to change that philosiphy.
          • 2 Years Ago
          @efrost96
          [blocked]
      TopGun
      • 2 Years Ago
      Great job Scott, and welcome! Good job on AutoLine AfterHours as well a little while ago. I'm waiting to drive the Dart...or maybe an ATS. I know how good the Wrangler is with the Pentastar...although I just keep hearing great things about the Sonic...bring on the RS version. And why is the Focus ST taking so long?
        kcroc10077
        • 2 Years Ago
        @TopGun
        I though we'd see the Focus ST in Detroit. I'm itching to rive it along with the ATS and the Dart SRT4. Ohh...and don't forget the ATS-V (which will hopefully be at Detroit next year).
      Avinash Machado
      • 2 Years Ago
      Nice to have you here Scott.
      efrost96
      • 2 Years Ago
      #10 is a dumb comparison. your comparing apples to mangos. yes Jeep, Kia and Chevy sell a lot more cars then Infinity, Cadillac and Mercedes Benz they have very different business models and profit margins
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