If the car in your driveway is looking a little worn out, you're not alone. The recession pushed the average age of cars on the road today to more than 10 years--the oldest ever.
Now, pent-up demand is beginning to spur a recovery in auto sales, even though economic growth is slower than many had forecast. In April the annualized light vehicle sales rate topped 13 million for the third month in a row--well off the record levels during the mid-2000s, but considerably better than the 10 million or lower sales rate experienced during the depths of the recession.
As consumers return to dealerships, though, they are mostly flocking to smaller cars rather than the big SUVs that were popular before the recession. Of course, pickup trucks like Ford's F Series and Chevrolet Silverado, No. 1 and No. 3 on our list, respectively, are still among the best-sellers, but most of the vehicles flying out of dealer showrooms this spring are fuel-efficient passenger cars like the Toyota Camry (No. 2) and Corolla (No. 8), Honda Accord (No. 4) and Civic (No. 5), and the Hyundai Elantra (No. 9) and Sonata (No. 10).
General Motors' Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan, for instance, is quickly gaining traction. GM sold 25,160 in April, and more than 75,000 in the first four months of the year, ranking it sixth on our list. GM offered more generous discounts than other carmakers and stepped up its leasing offers during the first few months of the year. Though it has since scaled back those offers, GM still leads the top six automakers in discounts, with an average incentive of $3,000 per vehicle, according to Edmunds.com, an automotive research site.
GM looks to be gaining at the expense of Toyota, which is struggling after a hit to its quality image and the effects of the natural disaster in Japan. Overall Chevrolet sales are up 24% this year, fueled by strong sales of the Cruze and other models, including the mid-sized Malibu sedan and the Equinox, a compact crossover. The number of Toyota Camry shoppers who cross-shopped the Chevy Malibu has doubled in recent weeks, according to Edmunds.com. In fact, Malibu sales were up 49% in April, while Camry sales rose just 9%. Camry still outsold Malibu by nearly 6,000 vehicles in April, however, and remains well ahead for the year.
Another hot seller is the newly redesigned Hyundai Elantra, which is up 88% this year, and surged into the top 10 in April, ahead of its popular sibling, the Hyundai Sonata. Most affected, perhaps, was Honda, which has been in a bit of a slump of late and fought back by offering discounts on its Civic compact. "The Civic was in demand for its fuel efficient attributes, but even still Honda spent over $2,000 per Civic sold--the highest Civic incentive we have on record--in a month when incentives on most small cars went down," noted Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell. Honda might have been anxious to clear out older models to make room for a redesigned Civic, which goes on sale soon.