DETROIT, MI – Ford posted a 43 percent jump in February U.S. auto sales and General Motors posted an 11.5 percent increase for February as compared to last year’s sales. At the same time, Toyota’s February sales fell 8.7 percent because of a massive safety recall. This is the first time in almost 12 years that Ford outsold General Motors. Industry analysts attribute this fact to Ford’s grabbing sales from struggling Toyota. At the same time, Chrysler posted a mere .47 percent gain from a year ago.

February was the first full month of sales since January 26, 2010 when Toyota decided to stop the sales of eight of its popular U.S. models due to safety concerns. Those cars went on sale again after dealers repaired them, but there seemed to be no way to avoid the plunge in sales for the month of February.

Clearly, this change in the automotive industry was caused by Toyota’s public image, which has been suffering lately from the recall of millions of vehicles and congressional hearings on its safety record. The sales and marketing staffs of the various automotive manufacturers most likely recognized the opportunity offered by the recent troubles at Toyota and were able to profit from them.

U.S. auto makers are not the only ones to benefit in the wake of Toyota’s recall troubles. Several other auto makers saw increases in U.S. sales for February as compared to the same month in 2008, but not all of these increases are due to Toyota’s problems. Some of the sales increases from these manufacturer’s are due to the release of new models:

  • Honda Motor Co. saw its sales increase 12.7 percent
  • South Korea’s Kia Motors Corp. also saw a rise of 9 percent
  • Nissan sales surged 29 percent
  • Subaru also reported a 38 percent jump

GM’s vice president of sales and marketing, Susan Docherty said that GM was able to win over some Toyota buyers who left the Japanese auto maker due to the recalls, stating, “We feel we’re getting our fair share of the Toyota business.”

February vehicle sales are expected to rise an estimated 9 percent to 14 percent industrywide. According to industry forecasters this is a smaller than expected increase in the U.S. and is largely due to a shortage of top selling models, snowstorms and Toyota’s recall problems.

The recent snow storms are playing no small role in U.S. auto sales this year. Winter storms at the beginning and end of the month hurt sales on the East Coast and in the Midwest. GM said its sales dropped 22 percent in the Northeast region. The corridor from Boston to Washington typically accounts for about a quarter of the automaker’s U.S. sales.

Still, the lesson of marketing and public relations should not be lost to any U.S. manufacturer or business. If it can happen to Toyota, it can happen to anyone.

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