TUSTIN, Calif. (April 20, 2009) — A just completed national internet survey shows a marked increase in consumers’ unwillingness to consider purchasing a new car. Beginning in September 2008 AutoPacific, a Tustin, Calif.-based automotive market research firm, looked to its internet consumer panel to gauge the likelihood of consumers to purchase or lease a new (not used) vehicle in the next 24 months. The most recent survey shows those who definitely/probably will not buy has increased from 22% in September, 2008, to 38% in March, 2009 to 42% in April. This trend is reinforced by the survey’s definitely/probably will buy numbers which have decreased from 53% last September, to 37% last month to 35% in April 2009. Over 1,100 persons responded per survey.
“In early 2008 the US auto industry was hobbled by high gasoline prices, while consumer confidence was beginning its own collapse. Then, just as gas prices declined, the financial crisis hit, and vehicle sales fell even lower,” says George Peterson, president of AutoPacific. “A key component of AutoPacific’s sales forecasting practice includes monitoring consumer intentions on a regular basis. One might think that the government’s stimulus expenditures, warranty guarantees for GM and Chrysler vehicles, or the rising stock market would have turned consumer sentiment around. But this survey shows that hasn’t happened, at least not yet.”
Today’s Consumers Expect More Features in Their Vehicles as Technology Grows
TUSTIN, Calif. (April 15, 2009) — You have some free time. You decide to plug in the laptop and surf the Internet using your wireless connection. After a few minutes you grab a cold soda out of the refrigerator, recline your seat and decide to watch some satellite television. And you’ve done all of this in a parking lot waiting for your child’s soccer practice to end.
Today many comforts of home as well as their technologies are available in your car, so you never have to be far from the entertainment, information and luxuries you enjoy. This is quite a departure from the days of the Model T Ford when cars weren’t even equipped with fuel gauges or electric starters. Some of today’s cars can be started with the push of a button from yards away.
“Features that were once the stuff of science fiction are now common on even entry-level cars,” said George Peterson, President and CEO of AutoPacific, a Tustin, Calif. automotive research firm which has been conducting consumer insight research since 1986. “The newest, most advanced features usually appear first on luxury vehicles and then migrate throughout as the technology becomes less expensive. Our research has revealed there is strong and growing demand for all types of new technology in vehicles, with safety features having the most demand.. For example, many drivers are interested in vehicles that will stop themselves in emergency situations, warn you when other cars are too close, or even parallel park themselves.”
AutoPacific Research Indicates Balance of Year May Continue to be Difficult for Car Companies
TUSTIN, Calif. (April 3, 2009) — A national Internet survey conducted between March 31 and April 1 reveals that the American public is extremely aware of the current challenges facing the American automobile industry and the Obama administration’s actions to confront them. Only three percent in the survey said they were not aware of the billions of dollars in government loan guarantees made to General Motors and Chrysler, 94 percent knew that both companies had been required to submit viability plans in hopes of receiving additional government aid, and 89 percent were aware that the White House had declared neither plan represented “a credible path to viability.” The survey findings were the result of over 700 responses.
President Barack Obama delivered an address to the nation this morning at 11AM where he summarized the results of review of General Motors and Chrysler by The Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry. The conclusion of the report was that neither of the plans presented to the Task Force by GM and Chrysler are viable.
Wagoner Gone – Replaced by Henderson: Immediately, General Motors’ Chairman Rick Wagoner was let go to be replaced by Fritz Henderson – a very capable and experienced senior executive. Clearly, the Task Force determined that the GM plan did not go far enough. GM now has another sixty days to rework the plan and come back with a viable approach. If they do not, the government can move the Corp into bankruptcy to get its house in order.
Our question is “What will GM’s brand and vehicle line profile look like on June 1?”
Chrysler and Fiat Agree to the Framework of a Tie-Up: Minutes after Obama’s speech, Chrysler announced the it had reached developed a framework for a tie-up with Fiat with the blessing of the Treasury Department. Fiat receives a third share of Chrysler for technology sharing allowing Chrysler to launch competitive new products based on Fiat powertrains and platforms. This is needed to keep Chrysler competitive. Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli keeps his job because he has been at the helm for a relatively short time (since August 2007) compared with Wagoner’s eight years at the helm.
Government to Guarantee Warranties (Warrantees): Obama stated that beginning today the warranties offered by GM and Chrysler are stronger than they have ever been because they would be guaranteed by the government. Also, adopting a spelling not seen for decades, the government refers to these plans as “warrantees”. This support by the government is to create confidence in purchasing a new General Motors or Chrysler vehicle today.
Other Actions – Tax Credits, Scrappage Plans, Etc: Obama also mentioned the sales tax credit for purchasing a new vehicle that has been approved by Congress. Pending are plans for incentives to scrap older, gross polluters.
Further Question: Ford: Ford Motor Company has not taken part in government loan guarantees having planned financially for tough years back in 2006. While Ford is struggling like GM and Chrysler it does not seem to be hurt as much in the market as they are. Market share is not down as much.
How will Ford be impacted by the statements of the President, The Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry, and the restructuring forced on GM and Chrysler by the government? Will Ford thrive or continue to struggle?
Another Question: Financial Company CEOs: Rick Wagoner fell on the sword for General Motors performance during his tenure but you can argue that the performance of the financial community has been much worse and much more damaging to the economy. Where can we see the heads of the banks, investment banks, and insurance company CEOs rolling down Main Street?
The Color Nazis at the California Air Resources Board has backed off of a proposed regulation that would have required dark colored vehicles to have reflective paint to keep vehicle interiors cool thereby reducing the load on the air conditioning system. What this may have done would be the elimination of black, dark blue, dark green, dark grey paint colors. All are popular in the State.
The fact of the matter is that interior heat load is determined more by the tint of the glass than of the color of the vehicle. Maybe CARB does now recognize this because they have changed their position. See the following excerpt from their March 27, 2009 Press Release and quotes from the CARB website…
From the website: “In 2006, California adopted the California Global Warming Solutions Act, also known as AB 32. This law created a comprehensive, long term plan for California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Cool Paints was identified as an Early Action strategy, to be in place no later than January 1, 2010. This strategy is based on measures to reduce the solar heat gain in a vehicle parked in the sun. A cooler interior would make drivers less likely to activate the air conditioner, which increases carbon dioxide emissions.
Potential approaches include reformulation of paint to reflect near-infrared sunlight, parked car ventilation, and solar reflective window glazing. It is expected that cool paints, together with reflective glazing, will reduce the soak temperature of the typical vehicle parked in the sun by 5 to10 degrees celsius.
From the CARB March 27, 2009 Press Release: “Of note, the proposal now specifies solar control requirements only for new vehicles windows (glazing). The original proposed
regulation contained requirements for both vehicle paint and windows to improve their ability to reflect heat from the sun. The intent of the paint requirements was to introduce reflective paint (currently used in architectural paints to keep houses and businesses cool) into the automotive arena. The requirement was never at any point to limit consumer color choices or ban any colors. Based on input from the automotive industry, paint, pigment suppliers, and comments from a public workshop held on March 12th, ARB staff has determined that a clear path to achieve solar reflectivity for the darker colors has not yet been identified. We are planning to address the paint-related portion
of the proposal in a future regulatory action. ”
So, for now, it appears that darker colors are safe.
The March 23 Los Angeles Times editorial ‘You can depend on Detroit” hits the mark; today’s auto industry is a tremendously competitive place. Consumers can now choose cars and trucks from domestic (Detroit) automakers that match the quality and reliability of vehicles from Japanese or European makers. So why won’t Americans buy American cars?
Buyers have long memories. In the late ’70s through the early ’90s American manufacturers dropped the ball in product quality, reliability and customer service. While those problems have largely been corrected, the stark reality is that many people were burned during those years and they will forever be biased against the Detroit Big Three. Parents have influenced their children. Friends have influenced neighbors. Worrisome for the domestic makers, many Americans today have never, never owned an American car. They have no point of reference or familiarity with today’s domestic offerings.
During the auto industry bailout testimony by the Detroit Big Three, Senator after Congressman castigated the DB3 management for selling vehicles Americans did not want to buy. Based on AutoPacific research, it is the government officials who are out of touch with today’s reality, not the U.S. automakers. In fact, in AutoPacific’s most recent research with owners of new cars and trucks, and echoed by other automotive researchers, both General Motors and Ford Motor Company products won more than their fair share of awards for satisfying their customers and developing vehicles ideal for their target customers.
Lexus builds outstanding vehicles supported by a great dealership experience. But its position atop durability studies is not unassailable. Today, American consumers have terrific choices – foreign AND domestic.
Atomization Causes Car Makers to Lose, Not Gain, Focus
Definition of Atomization: Adding new, incremental car and light truck nameplates to more accurately hit customer target needs, wants and desires, resulting in increased overall sales.
Over the past decade, AutoPacific has been monitoring and evaluating the impact and rationale behind the automotive industry’s rampant atomization. With annual industry sales in the 16- to 17-million unit range, it appeared that carmakers could profitably continue to add models more closely targeted to specific buyers–if they could keep development costs, manufacturing costs and marketing costs in line. In other words, carmakers needed to make a profit while selling a lower volume of cars or trucks per nameplate. Since 2004, we have cautioned that atomization was shifting the battleground from product development to product marketing.
With 2007 showing more models and fewer industry sales, the industry became unstable. By the end of 2008, with the industry selling at a 10-million per year rate, sales per nameplate cratered. 2009 promises to be even more dire.
Background: More and more new car and light truck models are being added to manufacturer lineups each year, the phenomenon AutoPacific defines as atomization. This rapid addition of nameplates to the American auto industry is a result of auto product strategists and marketers attempting to provide products targeted at much more finely defined product niches. Consumers prefer more and more focused products, and today’s automotive consumer research can identify exactly what those consumers want. Current product development techniques allow vehicles to be developed more quickly and efficiently than in the past. The conclusion has been to develop a vehicle targeted at each identified buyer group.
The risks in adopting this strategy are numerous, chief among them making profitability much more difficult to achieve. When sales of cars and light trucks remain constant and the number of models increases, the sales per nameplate must decrease. This means a vehicle has to be profitable at a lower volume. In down sales years, like 2007 and 2008, sales per nameplate drop precipitously and profitability becomes nearly impossible.
AutoPacific’s Industry Analysis office shows that 2008 was the worst year in decades for sales per nameplate and 2009 promises to be worse. Why should manufacturers care about sales per nameplate? Higher sales per nameplate usually mean that the vehicle is popular and profitable. Lower sales per nameplate often indicate the vehicle is struggling to sell manufacturer projected volumes and grasping at profitability. Industry-wide, in 2008 nearly every nameplate saw lower sales and presumably lower profits.
At the previous industry peak, in 2000 when sales hit 17.3 million units, there were 208 car and light-truck nameplates sold in the United States. This indicated an average volume of slightly more than 83,000 units per nameplate. In 2008, when sales were 13.2 million units, there were 285 nameplates, dropping the average volume to only 46,300 units sold per nameplate. This was a whopping 36,700-unit deterioration (~44%) in the sales volume per nameplate. In just one year – from the end of 2007 through 2008 – sales per nameplate fell over 10,000 units.
In 2008 sales volume in 2008 fell dramatically. In the first half of 2008, spiking fuel prices drove buyers away from high-profit pickup trucks and traditional sport utility vehicles. These were followed by housing, stock market and credit crises. By mid-September there was a belated recognition that the United States has been in a recession since December 2007. These factors led to sales slowing to a trickle from September 15 through the end of 2008.
In the past, the industry grew dependent on sales driven by desire – emotion. Today, most new vehicle buyers buy out of necessity. Their old car needs too many repairs to keep running. Their old car has too many miles on it. They need a vehicle that gets better fuel economy. Their old car was stolen.
During the 1990s, a good year for car and light truck sales was 15 million units. By early in the first decade of the 2000s, growing use of incentives caused the industry to expect 17 million sales per year. Companies began adding more and more nameplates to take advantage of these robust sales numbers and to target their customers more closely. But while more nameplates were being added, the market softened. Many models were left exposed to lower demand, and at a time when marketing dollars for incentives and advertising also dried out.
Future Viability May Depend on Surgically Removing Nameplates: As sales per nameplate in 2009 are projected to fall precipitously at forecast sales levels (11.5-million units), manufacturers must attack their offerings to maintain viable and profitable sales for each nameplate. Using a simplistic method of dropping nameplates and losing ALL their volume, for General Motors to get its sales per nameplate back to healthy levels they would have to drop 23 nameplates and 4 brands. Chrysler would have to drop one brand and at least 5 nameplates. More on that later.
This analysis is simplistic but leads to very rational conclusions…
Conclusion #1: There is a strong correlation between sales per nameplate and profitability. With the exception of premium luxury brands, those manufacturers with higher sales per nameplate tend to be more profitable and viable. While the era of pursuing every niche was exciting and might have been supportable in a 16-million to 17-million sales year, it is very, very tough to feed niche models in soft sales years like 2008 and 2009.
Conclusion #2: The customer rarely benefits from additional models. Many badge-engineered models do not result in enough incremental sales to justify their existence. So, why do they exist? These redundant badge-engineered vehicles exist to populate the sales lots of dealers who are themselves no longer necessary. Think Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5; Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan; Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger.
Conclusion #3: Reducing nameplates means reducing brands (among the Detroit Big Three). Reducing nameplates means eliminating dealers. Both require a serious reorganization of the DB3 including eliminating nameplates, reducing the number of dealers, eliminating assembly capacity, reducing hourly and salaried headcount, restructuring union wage agreements. These actions likely cannot happen without bankruptcy of one or more of the DB3. Since “bankruptcy” is such a taboo word in Detroit perhaps the Car Czar can be given bankruptcy-like powers to be able to implement the necessary actions without referring to those actions as a “bankruptcy”.
Conclusion #4: These reductions WILL happen over time. The MARKET WILL force it. The very viability of the Detroit Big 3 is at stake.
With two new and important full-size pickup trucks this fall, at a time of extreme economic uncertainty, what do we see happening to the market in general? And how does the F-150 stack up against the Ram? Since our correspondent Jim Hossack attended both Ford and Ram driving previews, we asked him for some comments. Here we go!
2009 Ford F-150 XLT
What’s happening in the Full-Size Light Duty Pickup market?
Contrary to mass media reports, the full-size light duty pickup market is not dead. In fact, after a few tough months, it is coming back – in terms of share of industry if not actual number of units sold.
The auto industry is down by around 4 million units compared with 2007CY. Full-size pickup share of industry fell from 15.2 percent in August 2007 to as low as 8.6 percent on May 2008, but has rebounded to 15.8 percent in September 2008. In part that may be a reaction to fuel prices, which increased and then decreased, in part it a recent compensation for deferred purchases earlier this summer, and in part due to ridiculously low transaction prices as Dodge and Ford clear out showrooms of the old trucks. It is also worthwhile to remember that holding onto 15.8 percent of a much smaller market still means a dramatic decrease in overall F-150 sales. If and when the economy recovers, half-ton pickup sales volume will recover, depending on how drastic the next fuel price spike is.
2009 Dodge Ram Sport
2008 Promises to be Recent Low in New Vehicle Sales
Economic Doldrums – Short Term
At a recent meeting I was giving a presentation on the State of the Automotive Industry (SOI) in the United States. The SOI includes information on consumer expectations, state of the economy, the growth in nameplates and AutoPacific’s forecast for the industry through 2013. Clearly, the industry is in the dumps in 2008 with sales being forecast to be 15.8-million units. Sales could even be lower with the first two months coming in at a rate of about 15.2-million units.
Record Sales Years on the Horizon
So, in light of this Annis Horribilis (quoting Queen Elizabeth in 1997 “Horrible Year”), the AutoPacific forecast for light vehicle sales going forward peaks at about 18-million units in 2013. That’s after three years when overall sales are higher than the previous 2000 record of 17.3-million units.
Several things are keeping sales depressed right now. The sub-prime mess, credit crisis, devaluation of the dollar, slow down in housing, high fuel prices, etc. All negatively impact sales and consumer confidence in wanting to acquire a new vehicle. These issues impact brands and vehicle classes and vehicle lines differently. For instance, full size pickups are hurt because commercial users defer purchases until the housing sector picks again and retail users who have primarily been buying big pickups for personal use can decide not to buy a new one or add one to their family fleets. The dynamics are really churning.
However, the factors stressing out the economy are generally cyclical and right themselves over time.
GenY to the Rescue
But the ace in the hole, as the economy bounces back, is the emergence of Generation Y (Those car buyers who today are 18 to 30 years of age). GenY is the largest population cohort – equaling or surpassing the Boomer generation (43 – 61). They are just now getting into their vehicle acquisition and family formation years, so they will stimulate sales. At the same time, Boomers are not going quietly into the night. They will continue buying new vehicles well after retirement. So, demographic shifts will provide much of the push for higher sales going forward.
Don Esmond at Toyota has said a 20,000,000 unit year by the middle of the next decade would not be surprising. Don’t know about 20,000,000, but 18-million does seem possible.