Episode 838 – February Sales Skyrocket, Nissan Revives Datsun, First Drive: Mazda CX-5

March 2nd, 2012 at 12:00pm

Runtime: 9:27

The February SAAR in the American market hit 15 million units, a jaw-dropping surge that has taken everyone in the business by surprise. Nissan will sell low-cost cars in growing markets under the Datsun nameplate starting in 2014. A test drive of the all-new Mazda CX-5 with Autoline Daily correspondent Isaac Bouchard. All that and more, plus guest host Michelle Krebs from Edmunds.com shares her thoughts on whether the high price of gasoline will hurt car sales.

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Hello again and welcome back to Autoline Daily. It’s Friday-Friday-Friday, the second of March, 2012. Hard to believe it’s already the third month of the year, but time flies when you’re having fun, filling in for John. I’m Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com and we’ve got a great show today including a test drive of the new Mazda CX-5 PLUS a look at where gas prices are headed, so let’s get to it.

FEBRUARY SALES SKYROCKET (subscription required)
There’s good news to report on the sales front. The February SAAR in the American market hit 15 million units, a jaw-dropping surge that has taken everyone in the business by surprise. Total sales for the month hit 1.1 million vehicles, up 11.2 percent from a year ago. The biggest sales gains came from Suzuki, which was up 42 percent, though its numbers were very small. VW was up almost 37 percent, Chrysler jumped 35 percent, Jaguar-Land Rover and BMW both surged 26 percent. Toyota and Honda were both up almost 8 percent, but since that was less than the overall market they lost market share. So did Ford and GM. And for those who care about these things, the Chevrolet Volt outsold the Nissan Leaf nearly two to one, but their sales are still miniscule. The Toyota Camry was the best-selling car in America and the Ford F-series was the top truck.

In an effort to boost sales in emerging markets, Nissan is reviving a dead brand. According to Reuters, the company will sell inexpensive cars in growing markets under the Datsun nameplate starting in 2014. Nissan will first introduce the brand in India, Indonesia and Russia. It plans to sell vehicles priced around $6,200. The company is aiming for sales of 300,000 units annually. Nissan originally used the Datsun name for vehicles sold outside of Japan but quit using it way back in 1981.

You may have heard that Mazda is replacing its midsize Crossover, the CX-7, with a smaller model for this fast-growing segment. Our own Isaac Bouchard had a chance to drive the new CX-5 around Northern California and here’s what he thinks of it.

The CX-5 is at dealers now and Mazda hopes to sell 40,000 units right out of the shoot. Those are aggressive goals but who knows the power of The Lorax? Maybe the movie tie-in will help move some metal.

What is going on with gas prices? Are we headed for a repeat of what happened in 2008? My thoughts on this issue, after the break.

Gas prices, they are a-risin’. The national average for regular unleaded is hovering around $3.75, with $4 likely and maybe even $5 in some places. So what does that mean for the auto industry?

The first question that comes to mind is, will high gas prices slow down currently robust car sales? Such was the case in spring 2008 when gas prices spiked. But so far it doesn’t appear as if higher gas prices are slowing sales. January was a decent month for sales, and February sales were even better. A big difference from 2008 is that the economy now is on the upswing, albeit an upswing that is slow and lumpy. In spring 2008, the economy was headed for a recession. An improving economy and all that comes with that – improved consumer confidence, more jobs, availability of credit – along with other factors likely will offset higher gas prices when it comes to car sales.

Tops among factors fueling robust car sales is pent-up demand. The age of the American fleet is, well, ancient. The average car is almost 11 years old; the typical truck is even older. In addition, the used-car pool is small because of the low level of new-car sales in the recent past and the small percentage of lease vehicles that normally would be turned back in to replenish the used-car supply. The tight supply of used cars is triggering high prices for used cars, making the purchase of a new car a more economical decision.

Already, however, high gas prices are changing consumer behavior in terms of what people are buying. Sales of small cars, small sport utilities and midsize cars are booming; sales of large cars, SUVs and trucks less so. February sales showed the small-car share of the market accelerated throughout the month. The same trend occurred among midsize sedans.

What will be interesting to see is if sales of hybrids and electric vehicles also increase. Indeed, with higher gas prices, the economics for hybrids and EVs improves – a shaky proposition at best – albeit far more on some models than others. Consumers have a far wider selection of such vehicles than they did during the gas-price spike of 2008, which did cause people to buy hybrids in bigger numbers than usual.

Edmunds.com lists 51 hybrids and eight electric vehicles either currently on sale or hitting showrooms soon. But, in contrast to 2008, those vehicles also have stiff competition from a bevy of small and midsize cars that are in the 30- and 40-MPG club.

In any event, gas prices, barring calamity in the Middle East, will subside. And if history is any indication, consumers will return to their usual behavior.

Hey, that’s a wrap for this week. But make sure you check out RoundAbout, tonight! The show kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time at Autoline.tv. It’s a fun time so give it a look-see.

Anyway, I’m Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com. Thank you for watching and I’ll see you next time.

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71 Comments to “Episode 838 – February Sales Skyrocket, Nissan Revives Datsun, First Drive: Mazda CX-5”

  1. Ron Paris Says:

    That’s it?! That’s what you call a test drive of the CX-5? This is a vehicle I’m dying to learn more about because it’s at the top of my “might buy” list. Your spot offered absolutely nothing I couldn’t glean from Mazda USA’s web site. Thanks for nothing Isaac!

  2. Mark Says:

    Wow. All the gushing about the CX-5′s mileage numbers and it only matches the Equinox on the freeway and beats it a bit in town. All while weighing less and being smaller. What’s the big deal again? You do know Skyactive is a marketing gimmick for what every automaker is doing, don’t you?

  3. DON GOLDMAN Says:

    We went car shopping this week and test drove Impreza hatch, Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Kia Optima and Mazda CX-5. We bought the Kia, although the CX-5 seemed like a terrific vehicle. The dealer had added a $3000 markup and no matter how they fiddled w/financing and warranty, the markup still was there. It seems that getting the new model out the where it can be seen would be more important than the early greed motive. This is short-sighted and for a company that seems to be losing money, foolish.

  4. HtG Says:

    Could somebody please ask Mazda to get the CX-5 configurator up onto the website? It’s Friday afternoon for chrisakes.

  5. Jon M Says:

    I would say another reason an increase in gas prices that is hitting the media is that people are at least somewhat desensitized to it. In 2008 it was a shock, but the constant and ever unpredictable fluctuation in prices since then has likely desensitized consumers in general. I’m sure it’s just what those who profit from the shenanigans just love!

  6. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I always wondered why Nissan ever used the Datsun name, and why they later quit using it. A friend had a Datsun 210 2-door hatchback. It was slow, but got good gas mileage for the time. I think it was a 1980.

  7. HtG Says:

    Really Michelle? Was the ’81 switch from Datsun to Nissan so long ago? I fell in love with the Honeybee, and I’m still not over it. Be nice, please.

  8. Tony Gray Says:

    Nissan brings back Datsun.

    Time for the return of Pontiac!

  9. Jon M Says:

    Consider the hybrids and EVs available in the market today. Sure there are some larger vehicles available in hybrid varieties, but most aren’t so large. Of course I can only speak for myself, but I sure can’t make do with a Prius or Leaf. Heck, I’m still trying to convince my wife we can make do with a larger vehicle that doesn’t have sliding doors and a toaster profile. And for the premium you have to pay for some of these hybrids and EVs, I can get a vehicle that actually meets what I need. So while I’m only one household, no matter the price of gas, you can surely bet there won’t be any hybrids or EVs in my garage–and that’s just the practical reason why not.

  10. Jon M Says:

    It’s an insignificant matter, but didn’t Nissan finally drop the Datsun name in 1986? I remember a friend who had ’85 300Z with both the Nissan and Datsun eblems on it. Nevertheless, if memory serves (and it doesn’t always), I believe the Datsun name was around until the mid-80s.

  11. pedro fernandez Says:

    Please refer to Motorweek new car reviews for the proper way to do a new car test and review, having a manufacturer’s rep give us a carefully prepared speech without any real follow up is a waste of time. Bring back the Datsun 240Z without all the electronic BS and it will take the market by storm, well, we can all dream, can’t we?

  12. C-Tech Says:

    When Nissan came to the U.S., they weren’t sure if they would be successful. To “save face” they decided to use a different name, Datsun, just in case the venture failed. Since the new venture succeeded, they dropped the Datsun name in the U.S. I guess with this “new venture” some things never change. The Datsun 240Z-280Z’s were my favorites.

  13. C-Tech Says:

    New favorite – Infiniti G35 in black. That is a beautiful car.

  14. Vic Maslanka Says:

    The Nissan name was phased in on pickup trucks in 1983. The 1983 truck was a Datsun, the 1983.5 truck was a Nissan. The oversized brand name on the tailgates and a few emblems were the only differences.

  15. C-Tech Says:

    Did they even mention the fuel mileage numbers in the test drive piece?

  16. C-Tech Says:

    The “joker face” is gone from this Mazda, yeah!

  17. Bob in Atlanta Says:

    In 2008, high gas prices were “President Bush’s fault”. Today, high gas prices are an “accomplishment” of the current President’s program to increase energy diversity. We should all rejoice for a political promise kept. Personally, I’m waiting to buy the solar wind powered Volt.

  18. Jon M Says:

    @ #12

    I don’t if I have one single favorite, but I too would include the G35 coupe on my list of favorites. It’s effectively a 2+2 Z car. And oh, to have a 260Z

  19. HtG Says:

    gas prices.

    Laramie WY, 2.95
    My Mobil, NY 4.04
    Watergate, DC 4.99

  20. Dave Says:

    Mark, the CX-5 “beats (the Equinox) a bit in town”??? Try 20% better (22mpg vs. 26 mpg). Sure the auto Equinox equals the auto CX-5 on the highway, but the manual CX-5 has a big advantage (32mpg vs. 35mpg). The CX-5 is the (Current) leader until the next redesign is out.

  21. john787 Says:

    In 1974 I bought a brand new Datsun B-210 and it turned out to be the worst car I’ve ever owned. I sold it at 18,000 miles in fear of what else will break. I had trouble with the transmission, the wheel brake cylinders,warped engine head and other smaller problems. Consumer Reports had rated this car as excellent, and at the time CR was rating just about all the American cars as inferior. Never was I to trust what Consumer Reports reports about cars.

  22. Kit Gerhart Says:

    gas prices:

    Cape Canaveral, FL, 3.749 at the place that is usually cheapest

  23. Jim Thykeson Says:

    If there was a initiative to tell gasoline to go to hell this is it! I remember when the forecasters were saying that when gal. price got to $3.50 per we’d see all these new fuels come to the fore. Well!! we’re there!! The reason we’re not getting the hydrogen fuel-cell or CNG is because of ‘Clean Coal’ and ‘big-oil’ don’t want out of the game. Its past time to tell these industries to take a hike. We’d have full employment and a new ‘clean’ world if we’d make the move.

  24. Kit Gerhart Says:

    My friend’s Datsun 210 was reliable, except for the A/C. I remember well a trip from Indiana to Lincoln, Nebraska, and then on to Las Vegas, in late July. When the A/C quit, it was about 110 degrees where we were in Nevada.

  25. aliisdad Says:

    What has happened to the company that gave us the older 626′s and the MX5 Miata??? Oh, yeah, Ford happened?!?
    That CX 5 looks like a pretty nice CUV, but it still has a small wave on the side…Seems to me that Mazda needs to turn down the power a little on their “wind” tunnel down at the design center!!

  26. pedro fernandez Says:

    Ford is not responsible for giving Mazda that joker style face that everyone makes fun of!

  27. pedro fernandez Says:

    My Vibrolla’s shaking is getting worse, I had the car up for an oil change and did not see any cracks or sign of damage on the inner CV axle boot, I’m starting to think it could be engine mount failure, but I don’t want to commit to replacing those unless I am sure this is the problem, any ideas??

  28. C-Tech Says:

    @ #27
    Hey Pedro, at what speed does it shake? A bad motor mount will give you a “thump” when going into gear or when changing gears usually. A bad axle will give you a rotational vibration which is worse at certain speeds.

  29. tj Martin Says:


  30. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Pedro, a way to check for a broken motor mount: (this is a two man job), with your foot firmly on the brake pedal, with the vehicle in gear and the hood up (the second man is the observer), apply torque to the engine/transmission and observe for any inordinate amount of movement (of the engine). A small amount of engine movement would be normal; a bad mount would allow the engine to rock more than an inch or two (you might even see the engine ‘rear-up’ and pivot).

  31. pedro fernandez Says:

    #28 when I accelerate it happens, while I’m coasting it does not, then when I give it gas again, it starts and worsens if I take a right curve, and I don’t notice it if I take a left curve or a wide left turn. #30 thanks, I’ll try that. I just hope I don’t need to replace all 4 of them, it can get expensive.

  32. pedro fernandez Says:

    #29, didn’t we just read last week that production had started once more and today’s report said it outsold the Leaf this past month, so what’s up doc?

  33. HtG Says:

    Prius C, Pedro. Beat the showdown in the Straits of Hormuz while you can!

  34. pedro fernandez Says:

    BTW I had the mounts replaced in 2009 but they were after market, non-Toyota mounts. The minute I started the car with the new mounts, it was like I was riding an old lawn mower, so much noise and vibration, I almost paid the guy to put the old ones back!

  35. pedro fernandez Says:

    I spoke to a used car broker today, asked him how it was going, told me everyone is asking for small. fuel efficient cars., and those are going up a lot, he said I could find some “bargains” in the larger vehicle segment cause no one wants them!

  36. C-Tech Says:

    @ #31
    It sounds like a bad left axle or wheel bearing (left turns shift weight to the right and vice-versa). Chuck at #30 is right about the motor mount test.

  37. C-Tech Says:

    @ #35
    This is true, but oddly enough luxury SUV’s still sell well to the buy-here-pay-here group. Go figure.

  38. pedro fernandez Says:

    @37 From what I’ve heard from other brokers, there is a big demand for those gas guzzlers in countries where gas is cheap and plentiful like Russia, middle east and Venezuela (gas is about 25 cents a gallon with govt subsidies) but even so, poverty is so bad, that even at that price most folks stick with small cars. #36 I love RWD, none of this crap!!

  39. HtG Says:

    Here’s a link to a big piece on Hyundai in Bloomberg.

    (who remembers how tough HtG was to Hyundai/Smoke about chaebols in Korea?)

  40. pedro fernandez Says:

    Sooner or later, even TJ is gonna have to change his mind about Hyundai!

  41. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Did you try shaking the half shafts to see if there was extra “play” in any of the CV joints?

  42. pedro fernandez Says:

    I had the tech who does my oil, check and he told me he found everything “solid” incl trying to make the front wheels wobble. I’m gonna have to take it to a front end specialist, It’ll be less expensive than playing guessing games and trial and error.

  43. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I agree. I suppose the motor mounts may be the most likely culprit. Have you tried Chuck’s motor mount check yet?

  44. pedro fernandez Says:

    It does move quite a bit but I need to be specific about which one is the most crucial one that needs replacing, get to be too expensive to do all 4! also it shakes like hell, but is it the engine or the mounts to blame here? remember this thing’s got 335k miles, it’s likely to have the shakes no matter what condition the mounts are in. Just like people, getting old sucks!

  45. pedro fernandez Says:

    TTAC reports that Hyundai had a 28% increase in world-wide sales in 2011, like it or not they’re a major player in the market that can no longer be ignored or ridiculed, even used car brokers I’ve spoken to tell me so and that they’re not the bargain they were just a couple of years ago.

  46. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Hyundais are not a bargain new, either, at least the mainstream ones like Sonata and Elantra. The Genesis certainly seems a bargain, though, if it actually is as almost as good as an E-Class or 5 Series, as some reviews say it is.

  47. pedro fernandez Says:

    According to this article I read, the Hyundai chief said that they’re now aiming for BMW and Merc, they did not learn from history, Lexus said they would do the same, they were successful in a way, but failed in another, any driver that places handling and driving dynamics over just plushness will not even consider Lexus, despite their excellent reputation for reliability and if anything, Hyundai will take sales from Lexus and Infinity instead of the Germans.

  48. HtG Says:

    I’m telling you guys, go sit in the Azera. That’s a frightening bit of kit.

  49. AOK Says:

    Autoline WHY did you not report that MAZDA Sales were also up 32.3 %??????????????

  50. AOK Says:

    The CX-5 is BRILLIANT and a game changer, typical Mazda engineering, true engineering.
    Their Skyactiv Engines, Transmissions are their own, NO other maker has them, it will be some years before others can copy MPG….all new 2.2 Turbo SA Diesel version will also be out in USA next year, already now out elsewhere…Just wait until the all new Mazda 6 (import) is out.

  51. AOK Says:

    Forgot to add Year-to-date MAZDA sales through February are up 47.5 percent (44.5 percent DSR) versus last year.

  52. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The Azera seems to be the “forgotten Hyundai,” at least to me, but I’ll have to check it out.

  53. HtG Says:

    Hey Kit, I’m talking about the newest Azera that I saw the the DC show. If it doesn’t scare the other carmakers, then I don’t know anything.

  54. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I may be going to the NYC show. If so, I’ll be able to see the new Azera there, if not before.

  55. pedro fernandez Says:

    Isn’t the Azera supposed to be a more upmarket Sonata, like Avalon to Camry?

  56. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Yeh, I think so. I thinks it’s a little bigger than Camry, as well as fancier.

  57. pedro fernandez Says:

    Same idea as Toyota, make it different enough so it can appeal to a more affluent market plus a lot of people just don’t feel good about spending $30k and only getting a 4 banger, a six is a must, so this Azera should fit in nicely besides it doesn’t have the geriatric feel of the Avalon, so it should appeal to a younger audience. I tell you this Hyundai company is trying to cover all segments with desirable, well-built models across the board, now if they could do some RWD affordable cars, they would re-open a whole market segment that disappeared decades ago.

  58. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Time will tell how the new Hyundais hold up, but it seems like chassis dynamics is the main thing wrong with the way they work. Regarding their current rear drive cars, “ride refinement” is the only “low” that CR lists for the V6 Genesis, and, overall, they rate it higher than the similar size and performance E-Class and 5 Series that cost about 15-20K more, comparably equipped.

    The reviews from more “enthusiast oriented” outlets also seem to like the Genesis pretty well. It isn’t cheap, but compared to the similar size Germans, it certainly IS cheap.

  59. pedro fernandez Says:

    From the 2 used car brokers I’ve spoken to recently, they’re very impressed with the advances made by H/K, no longer the cheap used crap they used to be, now they’re going for almost as high as the Japanese, not yet there, but give them a few years and they may very well be atop the used-car desirability factor. One of them has a 4 dr Genesis for his own personal use, calling it the poor man’s Lexus GS. I looked inside and it is very nice indeed.

  60. pedro fernandez Says:

    Saw an interview of a business professor who claims EV’s are just a bad idea at this stage, comparing them to buying electronics, which have little if any resale values since they’re ever evolving with new technology and the fact that they’re worthless after a few yrs due to battery replacement costs, comparing it to having to replace both engine and transmission on a normal car.

  61. cwolf Says:

    For as much as I dislike the hyundai/Kia brand,no one can dispute its gains in sales. Never the less,their ability to offer a lower price and handsome warranty is a result of compromising ride characteristics,where road and interior noise still abounds. Handling,too, remains so-so. And material design limits are minimum of other makers. Body panels,read in other blogs,are of a thinner ga. steel. Add this to the fact that their prfits in Korea are also protected by limited imports and higher tariffs and it should become clear the reason for Hyundai’s gains in the market. Time will tell how good they are in the long term. My problem is that I can’t understand why people would consider buying one of these just believing they are saving a few bucks for an inferior product. If they would only realize this is a company sharing the same copy-cat philosophy of China and is a prime example of unfair trade policies working in their favor. I bet the same folks buying this junk are the first to complain how bad the economy is….thanks to the buyer stupidity,no less!

  62. cwolf Says:

    pedro,I think most of us agree pure EV’s are presently premature. I believe mild hybreds and start/stop have prooved to be of value in both initial cost and gas savings. Eventhough battery life remains a question,the replacement cost in hybreds seems more realistically obtainable and they occupy less space,as well. The person interviewed beliefs that an expired EV is rendured useless is a bit overstated because the history just is’nt there. You can almost bet there is someone out there trying to make a cheaper,smaller and longer lasting battery faster than the next guy. Until then,global hybred purchases can only steadily increase,regardless of gas prices,because it was determined they are here to stay.

  63. HtG Says:

    Cwolf, here’s a list of 10 year old Priuses for sale on Ebay. Seems someone may agree they’re still worth a bit.


  64. cwolf Says:

    HtG,WOW!,they sure do. I’m surprised by how many miles some have on them at that price. I always thought they were’nt really meant for long hauls, but rather more suited for city environments.

  65. pedro fernandez Says:

    Cwolf unlike ev’s, Prius is one car for ANY purpose, even carrying stuff, at half the cost of a Volt.

  66. Kit Gerhart Says:


    Maybe this is the article, or something related:


    I suspect a big reason the GM only leased, and did not sell the EV-1, was the “battery issue,” and the lead-acid batteries in an EV-1 would have been a much smaller percentage of the value of the car, than the batteries in today’s EV’s.

  67. Kit Gerhart Says:

    A friend with an ’04 Prius with about 150K miles and the original battery plans to just “drive it” for the foreseeable future, and see what happens. My guess is that he will trade the car on a new one if anything major goes wrong, but he might keep it around longer, “Just to see how long it will last,” if he doesn’t have to spend too much money on it. From what I hear, used batteries from wrecks are fairly easy to find for his generation of car.

    I was surprised at the prices of those first generation Priuses with 150K+ miles on Ebay. I guess they are already kind of collector’s items. They aren’t nearly as good of cars as the 2004 and later cars.

  68. pedro fernandez Says:

    Prius being a hybrid is NOT a liability, unlike Ev’s and other hybrids that have short battery lives or the extra few mpg’s ain’t worth the extra cost. Toyota hit the hybrid concept on the bulls-eye with the Prius and now the C is gonna make a killing,

  69. tj Martin Says:


  70. Kit Gerhart Says:

    That is a good article, and is spot-on regarding the politicization of the Volt. It is written by the same guy who wrote this mostly-glowing report on the 2010 Prius:


  71. pedro fernandez Says:

    Well, if this were an election, the Volt would lose big time, after all people do vote with their wallets as well as with ballots.