Honda Accord Tops Camry in U.S. as Asian Brands Lose Share

Honda Motor Co.’s Accord outsold Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry, the perennial best-seller among cars in the U.S., last month as gains for resurgent U.S.-based automakers surpassed those of Japanese and South Korean brands.

Honda delivered 33,538 Accords in April, according to a statement from the Tokyo-based company, and also beat analysts’ estimates for the month with a 7.4 percent increase in Honda and Acura brand sales. Toyota reported sales of 31,710 Camrys, while total deliveries of Toyota, Lexus and Scion models fell 1.1 percent, missing estimates.

“Toyota is in a little bit of a holding pattern,” said Larry Dominique, president of TrueCar Inc.’s ALG and a former Nissan Motor Co. product planner. “They’re waiting for new product to come out and being pretty disciplined” with incentives.

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, is pressing to keep Camry the top-selling U.S. car for a 12th consecutive year after the arrival of the revamped Accord, new Nissan Altima and Ford Motor Co.’s reworked Fusion sedan. Ford, General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC all posted U.S. sales gains in April that build on their first-quarter sweep of market-share increases, the first in two decades.

Industrywide sales of new cars and trucks grew 8.5 percent in April to 1.29 million units, according to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata Corp. Asian brands’ share of the market was 43.8 percent last month, down 1.5 percentage points from a year earlier, while traditional U.S. brands gained 2.1 points to 46.9 percent, according to Autodata. The U.S.-based brands’ figure excludes Chrysler’s sales of the Fiat 500 car.

Toyota fell 1.1 percent to 5,490 yen at the close of Tokyo trading, while Honda was unchanged at 3,820 yen. The benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average slid 0.8 percent.

Mid-Size Race

Camry failed to hold the top spot for a second straight month, after trailing Nissan’s Altima in March. Ford said it sold 26,722 redesigned Fusions, taking third among the mid-size models, even as monthly sales of the Altima surged 35 percent from a year earlier to 21,991. Deliveries fell 14 percent for the Camry and 5.2 percent for the Accord.

“Camry has lost a bit of its luster this year,” Alec Gutierrez, an auto analyst for Kelley Blue Book in Irvine, California, said in a telephone interview. “If I had to pick one rival for segment champion this year, it would be Accord. That’s the one to watch in 2013.”

Top Spot

Toyota has said it intends to sell at least 400,000 Camrys in the U.S. this year and retain the top spot.

“At the end of the day, people see the new Fusion and like it and the Accord is doing well,” Bill Fay, group vice president for U.S. sales for Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota, said in an April 26 interview. “Our goal, in spite of better competition, is for Camry to stay No. 1.”

This year through April, Camry still holds the lead, with 132,540 to the Accord’s 121,965.

Ford is still increasing Fusion production and isn’t likely to surpass Camry this year, Gutierrez said. “In 2014, Fusion is going to be in the running for volume leader,” he said.

Consumer Reports, the non-profit Yonkers, New York-based magazine, in January qualified its praise for the 2013 Fusion, citing improved design and interior materials, as well as fuel economy that fell short of official ratings; problems using the MyFord Touch infotainment system, and fit and finish flaws. The magazine withheld its “recommended” assessment for the car.

The 2013 Accord is the top pick among mid-size sedans reviewed by Consumer Reports, followed by Hyundai’s Sonata GLS and Camry, all with 4-cylinder engines, the magazine said Feb. 26. The Camry XLE V6 was the highest-rated family car with the larger engine.

Fleet Reduction

Fay said yesterday on a conference call that Toyota’s April fleet sales dropped by 8,500 vehicles from a year earlier. He said last week that such sales would fall by as many as 9,000 in the month, reducing total volume, as the company shifted its focus to more profitable retail customers.

Toyota’s decline in deliveries to 176,160 cars and trucks last month missed the average estimate of a 3.1 percent increase from eight analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Along with the Camry decline, the Toyota City, Japan-based company was hurt by a 21 percent drop in Prius hybrid sales. Jim Lentz, Toyota’s North American chief executive officer, said last month that falling U.S. gasoline prices had curbed Prius demand.

Honda, Nissan

Honda reported that total April sales rose to 130,999 cars and light trucks, beating the 7.3 percent average of eight estimates.

Along with Accord, which last led U.S. annual car sales in 2001, Honda’s sales were buoyed by an 8.3 percent rise to 26,453 for its refreshed Civic compact car. The Civic ranked fourth among cars for the month.

Nissan’s sales grew 23 percent, aided by the Altima, while falling short of the 26 percent average of estimates. Deliveries of the Yokohama, Japan-based company’s all-electric Leaf hatchback increased from a year earlier for a second consecutive month, climbing more than fivefold to 1,937.

Separately, Nissan said yesterday that it’s cutting prices on seven of its top-selling U.S. models, including the Altima and Maxima sedans, Sentra small car, and Juke, Rogue, Murano and Armada light trucks. The reductions range from $580 on the 2013 Altima to as much as $4,400 on the Armada, Nissan said.

The change is intended to better match the manufacturer’s suggested retail price with actual transaction prices customers pay after incentives, said Brian Brockman, a Nissan spokesman. Models bearing the new prices begin arriving at U.S. dealerships this month, he said.

Korean Share

Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. are losing some of the gains they made in the U.S. during the past two decades. The two Seoul-based affiliates, which report sales separately, lost 0.3 percentage points and 0.5 percentage points of market share respectively this year through April, according to Autodata.

Combined sales for the two companies rose about 1 percent in April, beating seven analysts’ average estimate of a 2.4 percent decline. Deliveries surged 45 percent for the Hyundai Elantra and 33 percent for the Kia Optima.