As expected from the strong results posted in December, the majority of automakers reported lower US sales last month, writes Bill Cawthon. Though BMW has not yet reported sales, Ward’s estimates manufacturers delivered just under 1.09 million cars and light trucks, down 1.8% from January 2002.

Among the largest players, General Motors, Chrysler and Toyota were down; Ford and Honda were up. Indeed, Honda posted record results last month, as did Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, KIA and Nissan’s premium Infiniti line.

Volkswagen‘s aging car line continues to struggle and even Audi sales dropped last month.

January was an outstanding month for Ford. The F-series kicked off the new year by reclaiming the top model spot from the Chevrolet Silverado in convincing fashion. An increase in F-Series sales combined with a dramatic drop in GM light truck deliveries to produce a humiliating trouncing as the F-Series outpaced the combined sales of GM’s four full-size pickups. Ford’s Explorer did the same to GM’s Chevrolet TrailBlazer/GMC Envoy. The Ford Windstar not only posted better sales than all of GM’s minivans together, it passed the Honda Odyssey and Dodge Caravan, as well.

The drubbing did not end there. In the Detroit bragging rights contest, Ford took home almost every prize, including total light truck sales. Ford was again America’s favourite brand as the blue oval outsold the bow tie by almost 35% in January. Sackcloth and ashes will be the order of the day at GM’s Renaissance Centre headquarters in Detroit while the champagne flows at Ford in Dearborn.
The Dodge Ram pickup extended its streak of month-over-month increases, almost tripling the sales of the GMC Sierra.

Just as Toyota is beginning to trumpet the Camry’s 2002 triumph as America’s best-selling car, the Honda Accord nosed past it for the second month in a row. The Ford Taurus retained its long-running third position.

January sales showed another interesting result. While it’s too early to call it a trend, sales of most large SUVs were down compared to a year ago. The gainers tended to be the smaller models. I won’t say the critics are having any significant impact yet, but the January numbers indicate possible weakness in the SUV segment.

In fact, passenger car sales increased while overall truck sales were down to make the split almost even for the month. GM car deliveries were up 23.9% as light truck sales dropped nearly 19%. Car-truck ratios also shifted at Ford, Chrysler and Toyota. Honda bucked the trend as its light truck sales improved, but Honda does not play in the large-truck arena.

Foreign brands still lead the passenger car market. In fact, based on estimated sales, the domestic brands’ share of the total light vehicle market dropped to around 60% in January.

Honda’s quirky Element is off to a good start with sales that place it roughly in the middle of the SUV pack. Saturn’s new Ion is not faring as well. Even with a new incentives package, sales of the Ion lag behind those of the S-Series it replaces. GM has launched a massive promotional campaign to try to boost sales.

click on table to enlarge

click on table to enlarge

click on table to enlarge