General Motors Co. reported Friday that sales of the Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze decreased 12 percent last month when compared with a year earlier, while overall the automaker posted a 7 percent increase in sales nationwide.
Cruze sales dropped from 20,427 in February 2012 to 17,947 last month, the second month in a row sales declined for the model. In all, GM sold 224,314 vehicles in the U.S. last month. Trucks and sport-utility vehicles led the way in February, with an increase of 14 percent, as car sales dropped 4 percent at the same time.
A number of factors combined to weigh down Cruze sales, according to several analysts, including pent-up demand for trucks, as the housing market helped drive more construction nationwide.
The current Cruze is nearing the end of its life cycle, with a redesign on the way sometime after 2014 when Lords-town will begin manufacturing the next-generation Cruze.
Incentives such as financing discounts and free maintenance on other Chevy models and GM brands also helped lure customers away from the model.
“The mix shifted this month and gravitated towards trucks and SUVs — they really entered the competitive set,” said Kristen Andersson, an analyst at the automotive information website TrueCar.com. “Incentive spending on the Cruze remains the lowest in its class, but GM really doesn’t need to offer those. To sell nearly 18,000 units without them is very healthy.”
Sales of GM’s full-size pickups were up 28 percent to 58,039, which analysts agreed was unusual for this time of year when gas prices soar as refineries undertake costly maintenance, typically pulling consumers toward small cars. “The housing sector has now joined auto sales in propelling the U.S. economy forward,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president of U.S. sales operations. “This sets us up well for the launches of key new products this year, including an all-new generation of Chevrolet and GMC full-size pickups and an all-new Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac CTS.”
The Cadillac CTS, along with the redesigned Buick LaCrosse and Regal, will be unveiled by GM at the New York International Auto Show later this month.
In early February, GM unveiled the new Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel, which will hit markets later this summer. Both Andersson and Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with Edmunds.com, another automotive website, said that if GM markets the new diesel Cruze aggressively, it could help draw more consumers in the automaker’s direction and help bump up sales of both the diesel and regular-grade Cruze models.
The company, recognizing some of its marketing shortfalls, hired former Volkswagen executive Tim Mahoney to lead its global marketing team earlier this month, Krebs said.
“VW’s success in the diesel market cannot be overlooked,” said Jessica Caldwell, another analyst with Edmunds.com, in a statement. “Last month, diesel cars accounted for almost a quarter of all their sales. You can bet these numbers catch the attention of GM and Chrysler with the Chevy Cruze diesel and the Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel both on the horizon.”
Cruze competitors such as the Toyota Corolla, meanwhile, had a strong February, selling 25,000 units and increasing year-over-year sales by 13 percent, reflecting the incentives included with the model. The Toyota Prius saw sales drop by 10 percent.
All four GM brands posted higher year-over-year sales. Cadillac sales were up 20 percent, Buick was up 15 percent, GMC was up 10 percent and Chevrolet was up 5 percent.
Industry analysts expect that 15.5 million vehicles will be sold in the U.S. this year, up from 14.5 million in 2012.