January auto sales fall slightly as trucks gain, cars fall

January auto sales fall slightly as trucks gain, cars fall

Toyota, Fiat Chrysler post heavy losses; Nissan, Honda gain ground.

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February 2, 2017
By Robert Schoenberger
Cars/Light trucks Design Manufacturing

Cleveland, Ohio – Automakers paid a bit in January for the December’s sales surge with results slipping in the first month of the year, typically the weakest selling month.

The good news is that the seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) stayed at about 17.6 million units, so there aren’t any immediate signs of an end to the long run of good sales results. But the bad news is that several mass-market producers experienced double-digit sales declines during the month.

While the truck = good, car = bad pattern that’s been around for more than a year held (with even Honda selling more trucks than cars in January), a handful of smaller vehicles produced solid results. Breaking down results by automaker:

  • General Motors – 195,905 -3.8%. GM officials blame the January decline on a decision to focus on profits instead of volume. The company lowered discounts and sales to rental car fleets, and it’s average transaction price rose to $34,500, a 3.6% increase. Still, the weakness in car sales was obvious at the company’s Buick division, down 28.2%. A year ago, Buick’s sales were 53% car/47% truck (including SUVs). This January, it was 23% car/77% truck. In other words, Buick car sales dove 69% while its truck numbers gained 18%. On the other hand, Chevrolet produced great numbers for fuel-efficient, small cars with the Cruze compact sedan up 38.9%. Though volumes are still tiny, electrified GM’s had good numbers with 1,162 Bolt EV battery-powered cars sold and 1,611 Volt plug-in hybrids (up 62%).
  • Ford Motor Co. – 172,612. -0.6%. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Ford cars plunged 17.5% collectively while SUVs climbed 7% and trucks were up 5.5%. Those numbers are great for the bottom line but worrying to people who work at plants making the Mustang, Focus, Taurus, and other Ford cars. Still, with demand booming for trucks, the company could have posted a gain, but like GM, it is managing fleet deliveries carefully. Sales to rental fleets were lower, as were commercial deliveries. Government sales were unchanged at about 6.5% of Ford’s business (primarily police interceptor units).
  • FCA US LLC – 152,218. -11.2%. Last year, booming Jeep sales overcame weakness in Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, and Alfa Romeo results to produce good numbers for Fiat Chrysler. But with Jeep down 7%, the entire company suffered. Chrysler brand sales were off 39% as the Pacifica minivan sold only slightly more than half as many units as the outgoing Town & Country had a year ago. Dodge sales were down 17% with only the Journey crossover (up 9%) showing any improvement. Ram pickup sales were up 4%, and commercial vans were up more than 22%.
  • Toyota Motor Co. – 143,048. -11.3%. A car-averse market hurts Toyota more than many of its competitors, and the company’s truck line absorbed less of the harm than its peers. Cars were down 19.9% and trucks/SUVs were down 1.7% (SUVs gained, but pickup sales sputtered).
  • Nissan Motor Co. – 112,319. 6.2%. There’s probably an executive in Nissan’s Tennessee headquarters suggesting that the company change its name to Rogue, a vehicle single-handedly making it the fastest growing major automaker in the country. Rogue small crossover sales were up 45%, a 9,000-vehicle gain from a year ago. The Rogue outsold all of Nissan’s other trucks combined and nearly matched the combined sales of the Altima and Sentra sedans – historically Nissan’s best sellers.
  • American Honda – 106,380. 5.9%. So you’re a company that has traditionally relied on car sales for growth, and the market prefers trucks. What do you do? In Honda’s case, the answer appears to become more of a truck company. In January 2015, Honda’s sales were 54% cars/46% trucks and SUVs. This year, the 54/46 ratio was reversed. Booming CR-V and HR-V crossover sales and the return of the Ridgeline pickup pushed Honda truck sales up 25.4%, making up for the 10.7% drop in car sales.
  • Hyundai/Kia – 82,133. -1.4%. Last year, lower-priced Kia vehicles surged, making up for weakness at Hyundai. In January, Hyundai posted record gains, but Kia slipped. Only Kia’s Forte compact car posted a noticeable gain, with of the other vehicles lower for a 7% drop for the brand. At Hyundai, good Accent subcompact and phenomenal Elantra compact sales made up for steep declines for the Sonata mid-sized sedan. Also up was the Santa Fe crossover, bringing the overall brand 3.3% higher.

Source: Automakers