US light vehicle sales boomed in May as the Detroit automakers blew past analyst predictions.

According to Ward’s, May sales topped 1.1m cars and trucks, the highest volume recorded this year. The seasonally adjusted sales rate (SAAR) for May came in at 11.63m, nearly 1.8m sales ahead of May 2009 and 420,000 in front of April 2010.

Even after cutting incentives by almost US$1,000 per vehicle, Chrysler posted the largest improvement of the major automakers with sales up 32.8% and volume breaking 100,000 units for the first time since March 2009. The smallest US carmaker is now in the positive column in year-to-date (YTD) sales.

Ford sales jumped 23.3%, led by the F-Series pickup. Strong results from the Ford brand overcame deficits posted by Lincoln, Volvo and soon-to-be-axed Mercury. Ford added late-month incentives to finish the month with a bang.

General Motors finished 16.6% ahead of May 2009. Sales of GM’s four core brands, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC, jumped 31.8% on new products and a hefty increase in incentives spending. GM spent the most of any automaker in May as the company worked to maintain volume while reducing fleet sales.

Cash may have worked for GM, but the magic didn’t extend to Toyota. The leading Japanese automaker posted a 6.7% improvement and it took help from light trucks and Lexus to get there. Lexus sales grew 31.3% as the brand padded its YTD lead in the luxury segment.

Honda sales were up 19.1% as a 24.3% rise in Acura sales boosted the Honda Division’s improvement of 18.6%. The Accord is well ahead of the Toyota Camry as America’s favorite car.

Nissan sales climbed 24.1% in May with the advance spearheaded by the Versa, which posted a 95.6% gain. But Nissan has now dropped back to sixth place among the major automakers.

Subaru set new May and YTD sales records as Outback sales rocketed 124%. Mazda reported sales increased 35.2%. Mitsubishi made it three months in a row, coming in 8.8% ahead of last year’s pace. Suzuki reported another decline; sales were down 26% in May and are now 53% behind January-May 2009.

Both Hyundai and Kia reported new sales records. The US-built Sorento continues to be the foundation of Kia’s success and the Sonata and Tucson were Hyundai’s secret weapons.

European results were mixed: Volkswagen finished 20.3% ahead of May 2009, Audi set its third consecutive monthly sales record, 22.7% ahead of May 2009, and Mercedes-Benz sales jumped a healthy 26.7%. On the other side of the ledger, Smart sales dropped another 40.6% and BMW reported a 2.9% deficit with Mini sales down 8.2%.  Porsche sales fell 5.4% on slowing sales of the current Cayenne. Jaguar was down 17.6% while Land Rover was up 21.9%. To no one’s surprise Saab missed its mark by 77.8%.

Moderate petrol prices continue to fuel sales of light trucks and crossovers. In May, pickups again recorded stronger growth than the general market.

WARD’S U.S. Light Vehicle Sales by Company – Source: WardsAuto.com
Light vehicles are cars and light trucks (GVW Classes 1-3, under 14,001 lbs.). DSR is daily sales rate.
Month Calendar Year-to-Date
May % Share DSR. January – May Vol.
2010 2009 Current Year-Ago % Chg. 2010 2009 % Chg.
Chrysler 104,651 78,777 9.5 8.5 32.8 433,289 401,215 8.0
Ford 195,132 159,651 17.7 17.3 22.2 797,766 610,197 30.7
GM 223,430 190,147 20.3 20.6 17.5 882,385 768,353 14.8
International (Navistar) 29 13 0.0 0.0 123.1 113 39 189.7
North America Total 523,242 428,588 47.5 46.4 22.1 2,113,553 1,779,804 18.8
Honda 117,173 98,344 10.6 10.6 19.1 487,282 430,358 13.2
Hyundai Group 80,476 62,997 7.3 6.8 27.7 342,741 287,302 19.3
Isuzu 172 130 0.0 0.0 32.3 760 720 5.6
Mazda 22,605 16,718 2.1 1.8 35.2 97,481 86,652 12.5
Mitsubishi 4,737 4,352 0.4 0.5 8.8 22,292 22,105 0.8
Nissan 83,764 67,489 7.6 7.3 24.1 375,762 289,446 29.8
Subaru 23,667 17,505 2.1 1.9 35.2 104,359 74,686 39.7
Suzuki 1,903 2,585 0.2 0.3 -26.4 9,514 20,259 -53.0
Tata 3,671 3,391 0.3 0.4 8.3 16,407 15,311 7.2
Toyota 162,813 152,583 14.8 16.5 6.7 705,938 638,795 10.5
Asia Total 500,981 426,094 45.5 46.1 17.6 2,162,536 1,865,634 15.9
BMW 22,092 22,993 2.0 2.5 -3.9 98,254 93,599 5.0
Daimler 19,907 16,322 1.8 1.8 22.0 90,886 77,474 17.3
Porsche 1,873 1,979 0.2 0.2 -5.4 8,842 8,757 1.0
Saab Spyker 174 783 0.0 0.1 -77.8 1,130 4,607 -75.5
Volkswagen 32,748 27,071 3.0 2.9 21.0 144,800 108,302 33.7
Europe Total 76,794 69,148 7.0 7.5 11.1 343,912 292,739 17.5
Total Light Vehicles 1,101,017 923,830 100.0 100.0 19.2 4,620,001 3,938,177 17.3
WARD’S U.S. Light Vehicle Sales Summary – Source: WardsAuto.com
Source is country of manufacture. Domestics are from U.S., Canada, Mexico. Imports are from overseas.
Light vehicles are cars and light trucks (GVW Classes 1-3, under 14,001 lbs.). DSR is daily sales rate.
Month Calendar Year-to-Date
May % Share DSR. January – May Vol.
2010 2009 Current Year-Ago % Chg. 2010 2009 % Chg.
Domestic Cars 389,714 315,976 35.4 34.2 23.3 1,621,017 1,296,120 25.1
Import Cars 165,439 164,652 15.0 17.8 0.5 710,373 704,082 0.9
Total Cars 555,153 480,628 50.4 52.0 15.5 2,331,390 2,000,202 16.6
Domestic Light Trucks 466,730 368,114 42.4 39.8 26.8 1,932,763 1,567,383 23.3
Import Light Trucks 79,134 75,088 7.2 8.1 5.4 355,848 370,592 -4.0
Total Light Trucks 545,864 443,202 49.6 48.0 23.2 2,288,611 1,937,975 18.1
Domestic Light Vehicles 856,444 684,090 77.8 74.0 25.2 3,553,780 2,863,503 24.1
Import Light Vehicles 244,573 239,740 22.2 26.0 2.0 1,066,221 1,074,674 -0.8
Total Light Vehicles 1,101,017 923,830 100.0 100.0 19.2 4,620,001 3,938,177 17.3
WARD’S 10 Best Selling U.S. Cars and Trucks – Source: WardsAuto.com
5 Months 2010
Cars Trucks
1 Camry 125,804 F Series 193,843
2 Accord 122,725 Silverado 135,788
3 Corolla/Matrix 118,625 Escape 83,440
4 Civic 107,127 CR-V 70,829
5 Altima 96,195 Ram Pickup 69,005
6 Fusion 92,763 RAV4 68,427
7 Malibu 87,597 Equinox 55,500
8 Impala 75,040 Town & Country 51,342
9 Focus 74,635 Edge 47,854
10 Sonata 71,478 Econoline 45,516