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Honda Civic Helps Asian Brands Lift US Market Share (Update3)

Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Honda Motor Co.'s new Civic helped the Japanese carmaker increase U.S. sales 21 percent in January, leading Asian brands to a sixth month of higher market share.

Asian automakers raised their share to 37.5 percent last month, up 1.2 percentage points from a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp. Sales rose 16 percent at South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co. and 14 percent at Japan's Toyota Motor Corp.

The Civic, revamped late last year, had a 56 percent jump in sales as higher gasoline prices prompted consumers to buy small cars. New models, such as Toyota's two new luxury Lexus sedans and Hyundai's redesigned Sonata sedan, also spurred sales for Asian companies as the world's largest car market expanded by the most since July.

``The new models from the Asian automakers are making further inroads in the U.S.,'' said Yoshihiro Okumura, a general manager at Chiba-gin Asset Management Co., which manages the equivalent of $365 million in assets. ``Especially their fuel- efficient models help at a time when oil prices are high.''

Shares in Honda, the third-biggest automaker in Japan, advanced 170 yen, or 2.5 percent, to close at 6,870 in Tokyo. Toyota, the world's most valuable carmaker, rose 50 yen, or 0.8 percent, to 6,110. Nissan Motor Co. gained 0.9 percent to 1,305 yen and Hyundai shares rose 1.7 percent to 86,500 won in Seoul.

Total U.S. industry sales rose 7.6 percent to 1.14 million cars and light trucks, Autodata said. General Motors Corp., the world's largest automaker, had a 5.8 percent increase, Ford Motor Co.'s sales rose 2 percent and DaimlerChrysler AG's were 4.8 percent higher. Their market share fell 1.6 percentage points from a year ago to 55.7 percent.

Toyota

Toyota, fourth in U.S. sales, sold 160,625 Toyota, Lexus and Scion models, the company said. Its gain for the month was driven by Avalon sedans, Prius hybrid-electric hatchbacks and Scion small cars. New Lexus luxury models, including the GS and IS sedans introduced last year, more than tripled their sales levels from a year earlier.

The sales gain lifted Toyota's U.S. market share 0.7 point for the month to 14 percent.

``The year's off to a respectable start,'' Jim Press, president of Toyota's U.S. sales unit, said in an e-mailed statement. ``January's bright job-market outlook and the uptick in consumer confidence bode well for the industry.''

Consumer confidence in the U.S. rose in January to the highest level since June 2002 as more people said jobs were plentiful than anytime since the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

Honda

Honda, the No. 5 carmaker in the U.S., sold 98,394 new Honda and Acura autos. Civic sales jumped to 24,788 for the month, almost 9,000 more than the Tokyo-based company sold a year ago. Sales of the Accord rose 9.8 percent. Honda earns as much as 70 percent of its operating profit in the U.S.

Among Honda brand light trucks, only the CR-V small sport- utility vehicle declined. Pilot SUV sales rose 13 percent. Honda this week said it planned to reduce Pilot production at its Lincoln, Alabama, plant by as many as 27,000 units this year to avoid a backlog of unsold trucks.

Honda's market share rose to 8.6 percent from 7.7 percent, the industry's biggest improvement, according to Autodata.

Nissan

Nissan Motor, No. 6 in the U.S. market, said sales fell 0.9 percent to 75,891. January was the fourth consecutive monthly sales decline for the automaker. Demand for the midsize Altima and Infiniti sports sedans has fallen as the models age, Jed Connelly, Nissan's U.S. sales chief, said in an interview.

``Altima was off a bit, down about 2 percent last month, but G35 was really down quite a bit,'' Connelly said. ``There's a new BMW 3-Series out there and Toyota has a new Lexus IS, so there's some pretty tough competition.'' Redesigned versions of the Altima and Infiniti G35 are due later this year, he said.

Nissan's market share fell 0.6 point to 6.6 percent, Autodata said.

``Nissan is obviously hurting because they haven't had anything new in a while,'' said Jeremy Anwyl, president of Edmunds.com, an automotive data service based in Santa Monica, California, in an interview. ``Until they do I expect Nissan sales to continue to be soft.''

Hyundai

Hyundai, No. 7 in the U.S., sold 30,208 vehicles, up from 26,009 a year earlier, the company said in a statement. The gain was led by the midsize Sonata sedan, which posted a 66 percent sales increase. Hyundai's market share rose 0.2 point to 2.6 percent. The company boosted fourth-quarter profit 71 percent, helped by increasing demand from the U.S.

Kia Motors Corp., a Hyundai affiliate, reported a 5.6 percent gain to 18,110 vehicles. The increase was led by Sedona minivans and Sportage SUVs. Sales for Mazda Motor Corp., a third owned by Ford, rose 6.5 percent 18,177. Gains came from Mazda3 small cars, Mazda5 wagons and MX-5 Miata Roadsters.

Subaru, the auto brand of Japan's Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., posted a 0.4 percent increase to 12,384. Suzuki Motor Corp., a GM affiliate, sold 7,210 vehicles, 33 percent more than a year ago, helped by Forenza small cars and Grand Vitara SUVs. Isuzu Motors Ltd., a Japanese truckmaker, sold just 708 SUVs and pickups, a 35 percent drop from a year ago.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at

Bloomberg





Honda Civic Helps Asian Brands Lift US Market Share (Update3)
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