We're all about sick to death of hearing about the car industry's woes, but it looks like there may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel with many luxury carmakers reporting strong sales in December.
Import Luxury Brands
BMW rose 11.5 percent against December 2008, while Infiniti was up 10.1 percent, Mercedes-Benz was up 11.2 percent and Lexus was up 13.5 percent. Audi was the biggest gainer over December 2008 at 17.1 percent. Not all ships rose with the tide, however: Acura came out 8.1 percent behind year-ago December sales, though the TL and TSX sold well, the latter rising 17.9 percent above last year's tally.
The rest of the year was still a disaster. Unlike mainstream carmakers Subaru and Hyundai, none of the major luxury marques managed to post a full-year sales increase. Across the board, year-on-year losses around 20 percent are common, with Acura again trailing the resurgence with a loss of 26.8 percent.
Lexus didn't fare much better at a decrease of 17 percent for the year, despite the addition of the HS hybrid. BMW fell 21.1 percent despite a 22.3 percent rise in X5 sales and a 30.1 percent climb for the X6.
2010 BMW X6 M
Mercedes-Benz suffered the least of the losers at 15.3 percent decrease in sales versus 2008, even though its volume-leading C-Class saw sales plummet by 27.7 percent. The E-Class did carry some weight by raising its figures by 11.7 percent, thanks to the introduction of the 9th-generation model.
Audi is the ray of sunshine piercing the darkness here, falling just 5.7 percent for the full year and raising market share from 7.1 percent to 7.8 percent. December marked Audi's sixth-best month and third-best December ever in the U.S. The stunning A5 and S5 were particularly strong, with the S4 and R8 5.2 FSI pushing image at the top of the market.
Domestic Luxury Brands
Buick and Cadillac certainly had reason to be optimistic despite the mid-year bankruptcy, with excellent products like the LaCrosse and SRX making their debuts. Sales reflected the perceived merit of these new cars, with LaCrosse sales up 370 percent over the old model and SRX sales 357 percent higher than year-ago December.
2009 Lincoln MKS
Unfortunately, those figures weren't enough to bring up their respective brands for the year, though the SRX helped push Cadillac to a 7 percent rise for December and the LaCrosse bumped Buick to a 32 percent rise for the month. Year-end totals haven't yet been broken out by brand, but GM's four-brand (GMC, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick) year-end fall of 30 percent against 2008 gives us the outlines.
Chrysler...oh, poor Chrysler. Though their press release is chock full o' positive interpretation, the lack of brand-specific year-end totals and year-on-year comparisons says it all. Or perhaps the inclusion of new incentives in the sales release does. In the end, Chrysler as a whole was down 4 percent for December 2009 and 36 percent for the year.
Like Audi is to the imports, Ford is to the domestics: hope. Ford's luxury brands, Lincoln and Mercury, rose 15.6 percent and 5.7 percent respectively in December. The Lincoln MKZ and Mercury Milan deserve some of the credit, each up 5 percent of December 2008. Year-long totals weren't as favorable even at Ford, however, with Lincoln losing 22.8 percent against 2008 sales and Mercury down 23.2 percent.
Overall Market Picture
Though the luxury market as a whole is down for the year, we have to remember that the wheels didn't really fall off the wagon until about halfway through 2008. And with the majority of luxury brands showing strong sales in December, there's reason to think things might soon be headed up. Still, with even the bright spots dimmed by poor year-long results, it's too early to declare anyone a winner.
For a complete rundown of the mainstream carmakers and more perspective on the industry as a whole, don't miss Executive Editor Marty Padgett's article, "2009 Auto Sales: Have We Hit Bottom Dead Center, Yet?" at TheCarConnection.