Cleveland, Ohio – Despite predictions for 3% declines for 2018, sales increased slightly last year as automakers continued to push trucks, SUVs, and crossovers as car numbers dropped. Consumers weathered rising interest rates, higher prices (as incentive spending fell), and geopolitical uncertainty, buying far more vehicles than analysts had expected.
Breaking down the numbers for the seven largest automakers representing 85% of the industry:
- General Motors – 2,954,037; -1.6%. Still the nation’s best-selling motor vehicle producer, GM is discontinuing several Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac cars that combined for a 23% decline in 2018. Trucks and commercial vehicles rose slightly while crossover jump 7%, crossing the 1 million sales mark.
- Ford – 2,497,318; -3.5%. F-Series truck sales topped 900,000 units, and the company’s crossovers and SUVs were flat. Solid numbers for those core profit centers failed to overcome weak car sales.
- Toyota – 2,426,517; -0.3%. With the Camry sedan and Corolla compact car down 10% to 647,171 units, Toyota’s new best sellers are the RAV4 SUV and Highlander crossover – 671,681 sales, up 25%. Overall, cars fell 12% while trucks and SUVs rose 8%.
- Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) – 2,235,204; 8.5%. The only major automaker to grow sales in 2018, FCA had a mammoth year. Unlike GM and Ford that plan to cut slow-selling cars this year, FCA took that step in 2016 and reaped the rewards last year. Jeep Compass sales more than doubled as that brand jumped 17%.
- Honda – 1,604,828; -2.2%. Honda’s crossovers and trucks grew in 2018, but not fast enough to handle steep declines for its traditional best sellers – the Accord sedan and Civic compact car. Its only car to grow was the Clarity, a vehicle offered with a hydrogen fuel cell, all-electric, or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) powertrain. The Clarity PHEV sold 18,602 units, edging past the soon-to-be-discontinued Chevy Volt to become the most-popular PHEV in the country in 2018.
- Nissan – 1,493,877; -6.2%. Japan’s third-largest carmaker was 2017’s fastest grower (up 1.9% in a declining market), but it couldn’t maintain that momentum in 2018. The Rogue small crossover had been responsible for much of the company’s growth in recent years, and it hit capacity in 2018, growing only 2.1% while car sales dropped 17%.
- Hyundai/Kia – 1,267,619; -2.2%. The largest Korean automaker kept sales flat (down 1% for Hyundai, up slightly for Kia). Following a miserable 2017 (sales down more than 10%), SUV and crossover sales increased, making up for continued car declines.
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 18 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.