Top 10 March Sales Surprises: Big (and Small) Sales From Unexpected Places

By Jacob Brown | April 05, 2013
It's easy to snooze through new car sales each month with a few inevitabilities, right? The Ford F-Series will always be the best-selling pickup. The Toyota Camry will always be the best-selling midsizer, unless the Accord trades spots with it like it does so often. Except that neither the Accord nor the Camry won the sales race this month. The Ford's another story. March had a few interesting stories that should only intensify as we head into the warm months.
Nissan Tops Toyota and Honda for March Midsize Sales Crown

There was a 0.3-percent difference separating the sales between the 2013 Nissan Altima and 2013 Toyota Camry. That's just 100 cars. We're not going to ask what kind of pact with the devil Nissan made to catapult itself to above the perennial leaders, but whatever it did worked. When we drove the top five sellers in the class for a comparison, we had no doubt the 2013 Altima was a capable handler, but we questioned its interior quality and refinement. In the eyes of the 37,763 people who bought them, it must have been just what the doctor ordered.

3,538 People Wanted a New 84-Horsepower Car Last Month

Infotainment! Luxury car features! Technology! We hear all these buzz words time after time because there's a notion that the buying public wants all of the sophistication of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class at any price point. What we're seeing is that it's not unusual to find a $20,000 subcompact anymore. Chevrolet bucked the trend, offering up the $13,000 Spark with a measly 84 horsepower from its 1.2-liter engine. And you know what? They're everywhere. Chevy sold 3,538 of them last month, comparing closely to the Fiat 500 (3,807) and trouncing the Scion iQ (383) and Smart Fortwo (929). If Mitsubishi plays its cards right with the upcoming Mirage, this could be one hot segment of beater cars.

Equus Still Galloping, RLX Still Fighting Obscurity, and XTS Doing Its Job

While Hyundai's 291 Equuses (Equine?) sold in the U.S. last month don't sound like a whole lot, consider this: Those people who bought that car spent $60,000 to $66,000 on a Hyundai. Also consider this: The vehicle has far exceeded expectations and far outsold the Volkswagen Phaeton that carried a similar mission in the U.S.--and a similar price tag as well. Slightly cheaper, the 2014 Acura RLX got off to a good start with 336 sold--versus eight previous-generation RLs sold during the same month--and Cadillac cleaned house with 3,061 XTSs leaving its lots. Unconventional luxury cars, whether loaded up plebe mobiles like the Acura and Cadillac (which are both based on cheaper, lesser cars from Honda and Chevrolet) or big cars with unusual badges, will proliferate. Because no one wants to be at the receiving end of a rotten tomato during a 99 Percent rally.

Electric Car Sales Have Short Circuit

Overall, the U.S. saw sales for March up 3 percent, yet that wasn't helped by electric cars. The slow-selling Mitsubishi i-MiEV found 31 takers, down from 56 in the year prior. Chevrolet Volt sales were down 35 percent to 1,478. But Nissan Leaf sales saw a surprising uptick, 2,236 cars sold, a 286-percent increase. In overall sales, the Volt still leads the Leaf, 4,244 to 3,539. Last year, Chevrolet widened the gap as Nissan struggled to find electric car adopters. In its third model year, Nissan has added a new entry-level model that starts under $30,000 before tax incentives. The ball is in GM's court to see if it will respond with a more affordable Volt soon.

Truckin' Good Times

Overall U.S. car sales were down 1 percent to 759,172 units for March. Truck sales, however, were up a healthy 9 percent to 683,966 units, balancing out at a 3 percent increase across the industry. You should be happy. Why? Because healthy truck sales mean that businesses are buying more vehicles, which in turn means that they need more people to drive them. You know, an economic uptick. This is good.

Full-Size Fun

It seems full-size sedans are popular again. Toyota just relaunched its Avalon, Chevrolet is introducing the 2014 Impala this month, and Kia has its 2014 Cadenza in the works. All of a sudden full-size sedans have become a way to get into a premium car without paying extra for a badge. Most still carry prices in the high-20s all the way into the $40,000 range. Here's how they performed last month, with some commentary: 1) Chevrolet Impala (14,766): Note that this is the old Impala, not the new one shown above. It's a fleet queen. GM says that the new car will likely sell for a year what the current car does in four months. But it will be a much better car. 2) Dodge Charger (9,386): It commands a healthy number of fleet sales, especially to police forces. Don't expect that number to go down when the current Impala is discontinued after next year. 3) Ford Taurus (7,929): Bigger outside than it is inside (and disappointingly so), the Taurus sales here include Interceptor sedan sales, which Ford insists shouldn't be the case. But it is. 4) Toyota Avalon (6,982): Perhaps our favorite full-size sedan on sale today, the Toyota Avalon is a cheaper, better Lexus ES. How's that even possible? 5) Nissan Maxima (6,088): One of the oldest full-sizers on the list, the Maxima is close to its sell-by date and should be getting replaced in the near future. 6) Chrysler 300 (5,686): This one is bordering on a full-fledged luxury car, but Chrysler sells enough low-end models to fleets to make it miss that cut. 7) Hyundai Azera (1,117): New for 2012, the Azera is up a staggering 1,604 percent on the year. Bold, beautiful, and available with a ton of tech gadgets, we can only figure up was the only way it had to go.

Ain't No Love In the Heart of the City

These models have not been discontinued yet, but they're pulling miserable sales numbers. Lack of advertising? Not in line with the rest of the products in their lineups? Just bad cars? You decide: Mercedes-Benz CL-Class, 53; Acura ZDX, 43; Honda CRZ, 451; Lotus (total), 22; Infiniti EX, 146; Subaru Tribeca, 151; Audi A3, 120; Volkswagen Routan, 39.

Midlife Crisis Roundup

Since we're starting to get into warm months, sports car sales should be perking up. Here's how the noteworthy cars did: BMW Z4, 316; SRT Viper (just went on sale), 3; Mercedes-Benz SLK, 453; Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, 44; Chevrolet Corvette, 1,053; Nissan GT-R, 122; Nissan 370Z, 669; Subaru BRZ, 905; Lexus LFA, 4; Scion FR-S, 1,828; Audi TT, 189; Lamborghini (total), 46; Porsche 911, 990; Porsche Boxster, 578.

How in the Corolla?

Despite getting replaced later this year with an all-new model based on the Corolla Furia concept, the Toyota Corolla is somehow still outselling all of its competition, posting combined sales of 31,423 units including the Matrix hatchback. Runner-up was the Honda Civic, which was refreshed (and much improved) in only its second model year, selling 27,665. Third was the Hyundai Elantra (26,153) followed by the Ford Focus (24,929), Chevrolet Cruze (23,260), Volkswagen Jetta (15,505), Nissan Sentra (13,965), Mazda3 (10,505), Dodge Dart (8,091), and Kia Forte (5,931). How can we explain this? Well, it's probably among the cheapest of the lot since it's the oldest, and it's a known quantity. What will be interesting to see is if the Corolla can maintain its spot at the top of the list when its price reaches parity with the competition's.

Lincoln MKZ: Or How to Botch a New Car Launch

Lincoln has sunk to its lowest point in about three decades, and that's in no small part due to the miserable introduction of the 2013 Lincoln MKZ. It looks like a luxury car should, and while there have been those of use who've criticized its purpose in the future of the brand, it has every reason to be a smash success in the present. But it isn't. Last month in its first full month, it sold 2,360 units, which is down significantly from the old car's 2,932. This, clearly, shouldn't be the case. What happened? There have been issues getting quality in line in the Mexican plant where the MKZ is assembled. Additionally, its big Super Bowl ad campaign was one of the worst-received of the game. Its whole marketing plan has been a mistake. That's a shame for what should be a decent car, albeit not one that will pull the brand to Cadillac status anytime soon.