Eric Mayne's Blog

Rising From the Ashes

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This time last year, it appeared the auto industry was going up in smoke.

But according to the inaugural Ward's Automotive Group Cigar Index, a completely unofficial and unscientific economic indicator, reports of the industry's demise are just so much puffery.

From the 2010 CAR Management Briefing Seminars, industry insider and erstwhile tobacconista Larry Weis senses a renewed vigor. The mood is "much more upbeat," says the president and CEO of Autocom Associates, a Michigan-based communications firm.

"The people here, if their business hasn’t dramatically turned around, they're seeing a lot of silver linings," Weis tells me from Traverse City, MI, home to the MBS since Castro's beard was black.

As a result, attendees have been lighting up in droves. (Outdoors, anyway. Michigan recently adopted a ban on indoor smoking.)

Based on July's sales results, there are grounds for optimism. Clearly, the Cohiba crowd is spending again.

According to Ward's segmentation, Large Luxury SUV sales climbed 32.1%, compared with like-2009. Deliveries of Middle Luxury CUVs and Large Luxury CUVs jumped 37% and 50%, respectively.

However, peel back the industry wrapper and the aroma is less sweet.

Ford's sales were flat. So were Chrysler's. Toyota and Honda were in the red.

Nissan and Hyundai bucked the trend with jumps of 10.4% and 15.1%, respectively. And allowing for the absence of volume from discontinued Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer, GM sales soared 25%.

But total light-vehicle deliveries tracked ahead of like-2009 by just 1.2% and the SAAR had to move up to reach just 11.5 million, according to Ward's data.

So let's be blunt.

Things are looking up, but are we where we need to be?

Close, but no cigar.

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