November auto sales flat compared to 2016

November auto sales flat compared to 2016

Ford, Honda, Nissan gain, other automakers struggle as year nears close.

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December 4, 2017
By Robert Schoenberger
Cars/Light trucks Economy

UPDATED (Nissan statistics added Dec. 5, 2017) Cleveland, Ohio – Thanks to some Black Friday sales and a heaping of anonymous white sedans sent to rental fleets, November auto sales ended flat for the month with some big gains from Honda, Nissan, and Ford, and flat-to-down results elsewhere. Big picture, full-year sales are on track to stay above 17 million units but will be lower than 2016’s record-setting totals.

Breaking down company-by-company results:

  • General Motors – 245,387; -2.9%. GM has spent much of the year turning its nose up at fleet sales, and that trend continued in November. The automaker slashed sales to rental fleets by 12.9% (about 7,000 fewer fleet sales). Overall, trucks and SUVs fared well while car sales dropped, but there was one bright spot on the green-car side. Bolt EV electric car sales reached nearly 3,000 units. While some of that came at the expense of the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid (down 33%) sales of the two combined nearly doubled from a year ago to nearly 5,000 units. That’s not a blockbuster compared to the Silverado pickup, but it’s within 50 units of the Camaro muscle car.
  • Ford – 210,771; 6.7%. While GM was minimizing fleet sales, Ford boosted that number. Of the automaker’s 13,197-vehicle sales increase, more than 11,000 came from increased to mass buyers, nearly all of which went to rental car fleets – the lowest-profit segment of the industry (sales to higher-paying government fleets fell). Retail sales gained about 1.3%. However, most vehicles sold to rental fleets are sedans, which aren’t selling well overall at the moment. Higher-margin trucks and SUVs made up the bulk of Ford’s retail sales, and those vehicles are selling well and generating profits. F-Series trucks (up about 1%) had their best November since 2001, and the company’s combined E-Series and Transit van lines gained as well.
  • Toyota – 191,617; -3.0%. Booming SUV sales can overcome a lot of problems, but if you’re a company that’s known for its small cars, they can’t make up for a 32% drop in Corolla compact car numbers. Toyota got better news from its redesigned Camry (up 24%), a 5.3% rise for its SUV lineup, and a 2.5% uptick for pickups.
  • Fiat Chrysler Automobiles LLC (FCA US) – 154,919; -3.7%. Have you heard about the Chrysler Pacifica minivan? If the answer is no, you probably haven’t watched a television commercial or heard a radio ad in months, because FCA is pretty darned proud of that vehicle, and with sales up 51% to 13,195 units, it’s one of the only bright spots in a lineup undergoing massive changes. With FCA phasing out the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart sedans, sales were due to take a hit, and the company is getting less help from its competitors on the truck/SUV front. Jeep sales were down 2% (to be expected given how phenomenally the brand performed a year ago) and Ram truck sales were off 5%. From the company’s Italian division, Fiat’s lineup of subcompact cars haven’t garnered much attention (down 28%), but Alfa Romeo’s Giulia sporty sedan and Stelvio crossover have done much better with sales up more than 6,000% (from 23 vehicles a year ago to 1,440 in November).
  • Honda – 133,156; 8.3%. A slight gain in car sales, coupled with double-digit gains in truck/SUV numbers, made Honda the fastest-growing major automaker in November. The strength of Toyota’s Camry cut into Honda Accord sales, sending the Honda down 15%, but the Civic compact offset that loss by growing 23%. That balancing act kept Honda car sales in the black (up 0.9%). On the truck side, Pilot mid-sized SUV sales jumped 57%, and CR-V sales were up 25%, offsetting less-spectacular numbers for the Ridgeline pickup (down 25%) and HR-V small crossover (down 24%).
  • Nissan – 131,000 (or thereabouts); 14.0%. Nissan officials said Friday that the company’s sales reporting system was down, so the company could not post model-by-model sales figures for the month. But officials said they expect that number to be about 14% for the month, or about 131,000 vehicles based on 2016’s November numbers. UPDATE (Dec. 5, 2017) With full numbers in, Nissan not only topped its 14% estimate, it outsold Honda in November to take the No. 5 slot in sales. At 135,985 vehicles sold, Nissan was up 18.1%, a figure that lifts the overall market higher into positive territory than though Friday. The increases came almost entirely from the truck/SUV side of the business with big gains for the Rogue small crossover, the Armada large SUV, and the Titan and Frontier pickups. 
  • Hyundai/Kia – 101,513;  -11.7%. Nearly all of Kia’s models lost ground during November with the Optima sedan off 34% and the Soul boxy compact down 35%. Overall, the Kia brand fell 16%. Results weren’t much better at Hyundai (down 8.5%). Company officials chose to highlight the positives – strong sales of the Tucson and Santa Fe SUVs. Sales have been at record levels for those vehicles for most of the year and up 11% year to date.

About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 17 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.

rschoenberger@gie.net