August auto sales drop, executives say 2015 may have been a peak

August auto sales drop, executives say 2015 may have been a peak

FCA only one of the major producers to post a gain as Labor Day sales fall later in 2016.

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September 2, 2016

Cleveland, Ohio – Though still at very high levels, auto sales failed to match 2015’s stellar highs in August. Part of that is a later Labor Day (last year, the week leading up to the end-of-summer holiday fell in August, while this year it is solidly in September), but executives say demand was clearly down from a year ago as well.

The good news, for those seeking a silver lining, is that major automakers showed some fiscal discipline as demand fell. Instead of trying to spur demand with cash-back incentive offers, Ford and General Motors continued to cut low-profit sales to rental-car fleets and reduced consumer deals. So as sales fell, average transaction prices climbed in August.

Breaking down the results:

  • General Motors – 256,429. -5.2%. While there was red ink throughout GM’s sales report, nearly half of the decline came from its full-sized pickups. Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra were off a combined 8.3%, more than 6,000 fewer trucks than a year ago. Larger cars such as the Chevy Impala and Malibu were down, and the company’s three larger crossovers (Buick Enclave, Chevy Traverse, and GMC Acadia) were down a collective 19.9%. Good news came from the updated Chevy Cruze, up 52%; the Chevy Colorado small pickup, up 30%; and the best sales month year for the newly launched Cadillac CT6, 1,242 units.
  • Ford Motor Co. – 214,482. -8.4%. F-Series pickups fell 6.1%, a better performance than at GM, but Ford is more reliant on its trucks for sales growth. Silver lining hunters can take comfort in the fact that average transaction prices were $1,200 higher than they were a year ago, thanks mainly to customers opting for extra features on high-end SUVs. Vans continued their strong performance for the year with the combined E-Series, Transit, and Transit Connect up 12.6%. Car sales were off nearly 27%, trucks and vans were down 1.6%, and SUVs and crossovers fell about 2%.
  • Toyota Motor Co. – 213,125. -5%. Car sales were down more than 10,000 units, a 10.5% decline, with double-digit decreases for the Prius hybrid and Camry family car. The Corolla compact fared a little better, dropping only 3%. Pickups were also down, but Toyota is far less reliant on those figures than GM and Ford. On the positive side, the company’s most popular crossovers and SUVs all posted significant gains – RAV4 up 8.6%, Highlander up 12.2%, and 4Runner up 15.7%.
  • FCA US LLC – 196,756. 3.1%. Of the major producers, Fiat Chrysler was the only one to grow in August, propelled by the continued popularity of Jeeps and a stellar month for the Chrysler Pacifica minivan. Jeeps Cherokee and Grand Cherokee pushed sales higher for that brand, while at Chrysler, the 7,459 minivans sold prevented sales from being an outright bloodbath. Sales of the 200 sedan fell 66% as the automaker starts phasing that car out of production, and the outgoing Town & Country minivan fell 75%. Overall, Chrysler sales dipped 22%, despite the strong showing for the Pacifica. Ram truck sales were effectively flat from a year ago.
  • American Honda – 149,571. -3.8%. Cars were down, but Honda’s truck and SUV lines did well, with a solid contribution from the Ridgeline pickup. Those gains, however, could overcome a more than 10,000-unit drop for the Accord sedan, down 26.4%. Even with sales increases for the Civic compact and Fit subcompact, the company’s car brands fell 11%, and Honda is a car heavy brand. Executives with the automaker blamed the later Labor Day weekend for some of the weakness.
  • Hyundai/Kia – 126,263. -3.5%. Hyundai sold three more cars in August than it did a year ago (72,015 vs. 72,012), but its Kia subsidiary had a rough month, falling nearly 8%. Kia Motor America Chief Operating Officer Michael Sprague says there are signs that U.S. auto sales peaked in 2015. Even though overall sales fell, Kia and Hyundai posted gains on the more-expensive end of the market with gains from Kia’s Sedona minivan and Sportage small crossover, and Hyundai’s Santa Fe and Tucson crossovers.
  • Nissan Motor Co. – 124,638. -6.5%. With the Altima sedan plunging 39.2% (19,646 cars from 32,327 a year ago) Nissan fell behind the combined Hyundai/Kia in August. Crossovers, trucks, and SUVs were up, but the Altima typically accounts for nearly 25% of sales, so when it falls, the company’s numbers follow. The Rogue small crossover was the company’s best seller for the month at 32,979 units (up 19.2%). The dramatic change in product mix is even more clear when you consider full year-to-date sales. Altima sales, year-to-date, are 217,290, a hair better than the Rogue’s 215,160. Last year through August, Nissan had sold 238,200 Alitmas and 188,143 Rogues.

Source: Automakers