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
Throughout the industry, car sales jumped 23.9 percent compared to February last year. (Truck sales rose 7.6 percent.)
This February, cars outsold trucks 53.3 to 46.7 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
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.)
Small pickup sales were impressive, with the segment climbing 19.3 percent.
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
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.
Hyundai only sells one hybrid, but is the No. 2 hybrid seller in America.
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
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.
Chrysler 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).