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.

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.

Ford GM FCA Toyota Honda Hyundai/Kia Nissan