Toyota Motor Corp. led U.S. sales gains by Asian carmakers with a 42 percent surge in February, the biggest in at least 10 years, even after the Japanese company recalled 2.2 million vehicles last week.
Sales of Toyota, Lexus and Scion-brand vehicles last month rose by the greatest percentage of any month since 2000, said Carly Schaffner, a spokeswoman for Toyota’s U.S. sales unit. Deliveries increased 22 percent at Honda Motor Co., 32 percent at Nissan Motor Co. and 28 percent at Hyundai Motor Co., according to Autodata Corp., a Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based research company.
“We didn’t see anything that was measurable, in terms of an impact” from Toyota’s recall, said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at TrueCar Inc., an industry data provider in Santa Monica, California. “People who were turned off to Toyota because of recalls were already turned off. Toyota did exceed our expectations.”
After spending 15 months reassuring consumers about quality following millions of vehicle recalls for defects linked to unintended acceleration, Toyota said Feb. 24 it would call back additional models to fix flaws involving floor mats and carpets. Earlier in the month, U.S. officials said a review didn’t show any link between electronics and reports of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles.
“Our owners were pleased to see their belief in the vehicles validated” by the report, Bob Carter, group vice president for U.S. sales at the Toyota City, Japan-based carmaker, said on a conference call yesterday.
Even with the U.S. sales increase, Toyota fell 1.7 percent to 3,790 yen as of the 11 a.m. trading break on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, while Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average lost 1.6 percent. Honda dropped 1.1 percent to 3,570 yen and Nissan declined 1.1 percent to 848 yen. Hyundai Motor rose 1.1 percent to 180,000 won in Seoul trading.
Toyota’s gain last month helped Japanese and South Korean auto brands boost their combined U.S. market share to 46.1 percent from 44.8 percent a year ago, according to Autodata.
Industrywide sales jumped 27 percent in February, led by Detroit-based General Motors Co.’s 46 percent increase. Deliveries gained 14 percent at Ford Motor Co. and 13 percent at Chrysler LLC, according to Autodata. The U.S. companies also had combined market share of 46.1 percent, Autodata said.
Light-vehicle sales in February ran at a seasonally adjusted 13.4 million annual rate, according to Autodata. The pace topped the 12.5 million average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg and was the fastest since the 14.2 million rate during the U.S. government’s “cash for clunkers” program in August 2009.
“GM and Toyota stood out for the month, but there were strong numbers across the board,” said Jeff Schuster, director of forecasting for researcher J.D. Power & Associates. “We’re looking at an economy that continues to improve, consumer confidence getting better, and you’re starting to see credit and leasing improve from the end of last year.”
Toyota sold 141,846 vehicles to U.S. customers last month, up from 100,027 a year earlier, it said. The company had an “easy” comparison with last year as its sales were partially halted in February 2010 because of recalls, said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at Edmunds.com, an industry researcher in Santa Monica.
The company’s gain beat the 27 percent average of four analysts’ predictions compiled by Bloomberg.
Sales of Toyota’s Camry sedans, Corolla small cars and Prius hybrids all rose by more than 50 percent.
With U.S. gasoline prices increasing toward $4 a gallon, “the center of the industry” is moving toward a focus on fuel economy, Carter said. That will be particularly beneficial to demand for the Prius in the months ahead, he said. To capitalize on that demand, Toyota will begin selling the Prius V wagon in June, the first of a planned lineup of Prius models, he said.
Toyota’s market share was 14.3 percent last month, up from 12.8 percent a year ago.
Honda, fourth in U.S. auto sales, delivered 98,059 Honda and Acura-brand vehicles in February, up from 80,671 a year ago, the Tokyo-based company said. The average estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was for an increase of 12 percent.
Gains for Honda were led by Accord and Civic cars and a 61 percent surge in sales of its CR-V crossover.
While the company’s volume grew, Honda’s market share for the month fell 0.4 percentage point to 9.9 percent, according to Autodata.
Sales of Nissan and Infiniti-brand vehicles rose to 92,370 from 70,189 a year earlier, the company said. The Yokohama, Japan-based company’s 32 percent increase, led by Altima sedans and Rogue, Murano and Juke crossovers, topped the 19 percent average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
“Traffic was unbelievable” at dealerships last month, Al Castignetti, vice president of U.S. Nissan brand sales, said in an interview. “There seemed to be a lot of pent-up demand in the Northeast because of all the snow they’d had.”
Nissan’s market share rose to 9.3 percent last month from 9 percent a year earlier, Autodata said.
Hyundai, South Korea’s largest automaker, said it boosted sales 28 percent last month. The Sonata sedan and new Elantra small car led gains for the Seoul-based company, surging more than 100 percent and 54 percent.
Hyundai’s market share was 4.4 percent, unchanged from a year earlier.
Kia Motors Corp., Hyundai’s affiliate, had a 36 percent gain for the month as it more than tripled sales of Sportage crossovers and doubled deliveries of Optima sedans.
Subaru, the auto brand of Japan’s Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., said sales grew 20 percent. Mazda Motor Corp.’s boosted deliveries 14 percent, while Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Suzuki Motor Corp. had respective sales gains of 72 percent and 19 percent.
---With assistance from Craig Trudell in Detroit. Editors: Terje Langeland, Ian Rowley