Cleveland, Ohio – Predictions for a slower 2018 might have been premature. With half of the year gone, sales are up nearly 2% industrywide as strong March-through-June numbers overcame declines from the beginning of the year.
The seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR), a measure of what full-year sales would be based on June’s results, hit slightly less than 17.5 million, well ahead of May’s numbers and much better than June 2017.
Insatiable market desire for crossovers and more-generous cash-back deals played big roles in the numbers.
The numbers might have been better in recent months than had been commonly thought. General Motors stopped releasing monthly sales totals earlier this year but is releasing quarterly numbers. And GM‘s second quarter was up 4.6%, a higher growth rate than the overall industry.
Some analysts are predicting a weaker second half for the year, but going into 2018, most predictions had been for a weak first half followed by improvements later in the year. Lots of question marks surround the industry, such as the impacts of tax relief, the future of President Donald Trump’s trade actions, and how consumers will react to rising interest rates on auto loans.
Breaking down first-half results by manufacturer:
- General Motors – 1,474,170; 4.2%. Buick, GM’s most car-intensive brand, was the only one in decline in the first half, as the company got solid growth from Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC. The best results came from the crossovers with the Chevy Traverse and corporate cousin GMC Terrain up 30% and 31% respectively. Cars continued to suffer with the Chevy Cruze down 26% during the quarter and the Camaro down 31%.
- Ford – 1,277,691; -1.8%. Though Ford’s Escape had a good June, the vehicle is down 8% so far for 2018. It’s facing more competition and is one of the older designs available, and Ford launched the made-in-India EcoSport during the second quarter, drawing some buyers away from the Escape. Cars were down 14%. Trucks were the bright spot with the F-Series lineup up 5% and Transit commercial vans up 7.5%. Ford sales executives noted that fleet sales were down during the first half, and retail sales gained slightly.
- Toyota – 1,189,312; 3%. Once known only as a car company, Toyota has evolved as customer tastes have changed, and in the first half of 2018, 61% of the company’s sales came from trucks, SUVs, and crossovers, with less than 40% coming from cars. That shift in product mix kept Toyota growing in the first half with the Tacoma small pickup up 23%, the Highlander crossover up 14.3%, and the C-HR small crossover (which launched in 2017) up nearly 5x.
- Fiat Chrysler Automobiles LLC (FCA US) – 1,115,476; 4.5%. Fiat was down 44%, Chrysler dove 13%, Ram was off 7%, and Dodge fell 4%. The fact that FCA landed in the black in the first half is the story of three Jeeps – the Compass (up 240%), the Cherokee (40%), and the Wrangler (35%). The brand posted its best-ever June (up 19%), but those fantastic numbers were actually a drag on Jeep’s performance. For the year, the brand is up 22%.
- Honda – 787,824; -0.5%. Like Toyota, Honda is transitioning from cars to trucks and SUVs, but its split is still closer to 50/50, so the miserable market for cars is still dragging the company’s results lower. On the car side, Civic compact sales were effectively flat, while Accord mid-sized sedans fell 13.6%. Compensating for those car losses were a 40% gain for the Pilot SUV and an 8.1% jump on the Acura RDX crossover.
- Nissan – 780,695; -4.8%. Nearly 28% of Nissans sold in the first half of the year were Rogue crossover. Up 10% so far in 2018, the Rogue small crossover is Nissan’s most successful vehicle and the best-selling crossover in the country. At 215,202 sold in the first half of the year, it’s the only crossover to break the 200,000-vehicle barrier. Only three nameplates crossed the 200k mark in the first half of the year – the Rogue, and pickups from GM, Ford, and FCA. The Rogue’s 10% growth kept Nissan’s truck business growing (the rest of the lineup was down 3.3%), and helped offset the 12% decline in car sales.
- Hyundai/Kia – 628,611; -2.1%. Kia sales were down less than 1% as gains for the new Stinger sporty car and redesigned Sportage crossover helped offset declines from the Rio subcompact, Optima mid-sized sedan, and Sedona minivan. At Hyundai, however, sales fell 3%, mainly because of a 54% drop for Accent subcompact cars. Sonata family car sales were also off sharply. But, the tide may be turning for the company with the new Kona small crossover (launched in the second quarter) selling quickly, and gains for the Santa Fe SUV and Tucson crossover.
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.