Auto sales flat in July, subcompacts shine for some reason

Auto sales flat in July, subcompacts shine for some reason

Inexpensive, fuel-sipping small cars grew as many other classes fell in July.

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Cleveland, Ohio – July auto sales were ever-so-slightly up as no major automaker posted a giant decline, and a few had decent increases during the month. While the prevailing trend continues to be trucks = good sales, cars = problems, the results were a bit more complex last month, as I’ll detail in the month-by-month breakdowns.

Ford, General Motors, and Toyota all posted declines, though at 3% Ford’s was the largest, so there were no precipitous drops. Hyundai/Kia posted the biggest gain, up 6%, and that company’s results coupled with some figures from other automakers show that customers were doing some value shopping in the month.

One of the hottest segments industrywide, for the first time in more than a year, were tiny, fuel-efficient cars. Subcompacts including Honda’s Fit, the Chevrolet Spark, the Chevrolet Trax, the Hyundai Accent, and the Kia Rio all had significant sales gains. Yet for the year, that market is down sharply. The Honda Fit, for example was up more than 25% for the month, but it’s down 18% year-to-date. Back-to-school college buyers maybe? We’ll have to keep an eye on that inexpensive end of the market to see if the trend continues.

Compact cars continued to struggle, as did sedans.

Breaking down each automaker:

  • General Motors – 267,258, -1.9%. All of GM’s declines were at Chevrolet as Buick, Cadillac, and GMC all gained. Buick got boosts from the Cascada convertible and Envision small crossover – two new vehicles that pushed sales up more than 10%. At Chevy, big double-digit declines for the Cruze, Malibu, and Impala cars (-35.7%, -26.2%, and -38.1% respectively) erased the gains at GM’s more profitable brands, creating the monthly loss. Executives at the automaker did note that retail sales were up, so many of those lost Chevy sales were likely to rental-car fleets.
  • Ford Motor Co. – 216,749, -2.8%. F-Series truck sales dropped 1%, so the hot models weren’t able to overcome losses for the car lineup and most of Ford’s SUVs and crossovers as they had done for months. In addition, Ford executives noted that fleet sales were up 6% while retail sales were down 6%, a reverse of GM’s strategy to lower fleet sales. The bright spot was commercial vans, up 25.8%. The Transit commercial van was up 40%, driving Ford van sales to their best July since 1978.
  • Toyota Motor Co. – 214,233, -1.4%. Following the mini trend of solid numbers for tiny cars, Toyota’s Scion line sales were up 66.2%, while bread-and-butter vehicles such as the Camry and Prius were down (11.2% and 29.2% respectively). Crossovers and SUVs, notably the Highlander and RAV4, picked up some slack, but not enough to overcame the steep declines in car sales.
  • FCA US LLC – 180,727, 0.3%. With Jeep posting only single-digit gains, FCA was lucky to post even a marginal increase for the month. Chrysler, Dodge, Alfa Romeo, and Fiat were all down during the month with only Ram joining Jeep in gains. As with Ford, vans were a bright spot with combined Pacifica and Town & Country models up 71%. Dodge’s Caravan was also up 28%. The bulk of the new van sales were Pacifica models, a positive sign for the newly released model.
  • American Honda Co. – 152,799, 4.4%. Honda retook the No. 5 spot after having fallen behind Nissan in June. Three vehicles were mostly responsible for the gain – the previously mentioned strength of the Fit subcompact, good numbers for the CR-V crossover, and 3,518 Ridgeline truck sales. Its second month on the market, following a 2,471-unit June, the Ridgeline is nowhere near the sales leader as Ford’s F-150 or the Ram 1500, but its sales launch is going well.
  • Nissan Group – 132,475, 1.2%. The small gain was still enough for a July record as a 16.4% gain for trucks and SUVs erased an 8.6% decline for cars. Sales of the Maxima sedan leapt 43.5%, and the Versa subcompact (stop me if you’ve heard it was a good month for that class) was up 19.2%. However, the Altima is Nissan’s best-selling car, and it plunged 26.3%. On the truck side, a 72.7% gain for the Frontier small pickup led the increase with strong increases for the Murano and Rogue crossovers.
  • Hyundai/Kia – 134,972, 6.0%. Though not as big as June’s 15.6% increase, Hyundai and its Kia subsidiary posted the biggest gain of the major automakers. Budget brand Kia, up 6.5%, slightly outperformed Hyundai’s 5.9% gain, though they were in the same ballpark. Year-to-date, Kia is up 5.7% compared to Hyundai’s 1.6% gain. Hyundai’s Accent subcompact was up 64.8% and Kia’s Rio subcompact gained 49.6% (it takes more than one month to call it a trend, but the strength in the tiny car class was pretty widespread, even Daimler’s Smart USA division posted an 11.8% gain). Crossovers, such as the Hyundai Tucson and Santa Fe and Kia Sportage, contributed the rest of the gain.

Source: Automakers