New Vehicle Sales Sputter in December

Same old news: car sales down, trucks and SUVs up.

by on Jan.03, 2018

Ford posted strong sales in December, and its Explorer post its best results since 2005.

This story has been updated to include results from additional automakers.

Despite the usual year-end push to get vehicles out the door, most automakers endured tough sledding in December.

General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover and Volkswagen all reported sales decreases for December while Ford Motor and Audi reported modest gains as the auto industry finished a year in which the growth in overall sales stopped and then declined.

Sales News!

While overall results were unimpressive, sales of trucks and sport utility vehicles remained robust at year end. Volkswagen, which has long been dependent on sales of passenger cars, reported that 48% of its sales in December were SUVs. VW wasn’t alone in enjoying strong SUV sales last month.

“December capped off a record year for Ford brand SUVs, making it eight consecutive years of Ford brand sales leadership,” said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of sales, service and marketing. “F-Series had an unbelievable year as we sold nearly 900,000 pickups, with strong high-end truck demand as customers continue to opt for our latest technology and equipment packages.

Ford’s overall sales increased by 0.9% in December, but the automaker, which is more and more dependent than ever on the success of its trucks and sport-utes, saw full-year sales drop 1.1% led by a 14.2% decline in car sales.

GM reported new annual sales records for pickup and crossover deliveries, electric vehicles sales, and average transaction prices. The company also reduced year-end inventories more than its target. Inventories were 752,554 units, down 90,000 from a year ago, resulting in a 63-day supply, the company noted. A 60-day supply is considered ideal by industry standards.

(Used car prices suffer record one-week slide. Click Here for the story.)

The all-electric Chevrolet Bolt also had its best month ever in December, GM said, but Cadillac sales dropped by 29% as its rivals in the luxury segment unloaded some heavy marketing firepower. For the year, Cadillac sales dropped by 8%.

GM’s overall December sales – retail and fleet – were down 3.3% and for the year, they fell 1.3% for the year. The company continues to make efforts to reduce its commercial fleet sales.

FCA US reported an 11% drop compared with sales in December 2016. For the full year, FCA sales dropped by 8% with Jeep falling 11% in 2017. Ram Truck sales were up year-over-year in 2017 versus 2016.

A promising note for FCA in December was that Alfa Romeo sold 2,034 units were up significantly compared with the same month a year ago and recorded its strongest monthly sales of 2017 and actually outsold the Fiat brand.

Audi joined Ford on the positive side of the sales ledger in December with an increase of 16.3% with the Q5 and Q7 posting 17.7% and 47.7% increases respectively. The company also set a new annual sales record of 226,511 vehicles, a jump of 7.8% compared with all of 2016.

Toyota Motor North America reported December sales dropped 8.3% from December 2016 on a volume basis. With one less selling day in December 2017 compared to December 2016, sales were down 4.8% on a daily selling rate (DSR) basis.

For the year, TMNA reported sales of 2,434,515 vehicles, a 0.6% decrease.

Toyota division posted a December drop of 7.2% on a volume basis and 3.6% on a DSR basis. For the year, Toyota division reported sales of 2,129,383 vehicles, a 0.5% increase.

“We finished 2017 on a high note, reflecting the continued strength of our product portfolio and establishing Toyota as the number one retail brand for the sixth year in a row,” said Jack Hollis, group vice president and general manager, Toyota division.

“We are well positioned to continue our retail leadership in 2018, driven by a growing economy, consumer confidence and segment-leading products like RAV4 and Camry,” he added.

(Click Here for details about Hyundai and Kia’s sales predictions for 2017.)

American Honda reported its full year sales were up by a slim margin, 0.2%, despite a 7% drop in December. Honda division saw its sales drop last month by 6.3%, but came in with a 0.7% jump for all of 2017. The company’s Acura luxury division fell 12.2% in December and 4.2% for the full year.

In December 2017, Nissan Group sold 138,226 units, a decrease of 9.5% versus the prior year. For the year, Nissan reported total calendar year sales in the U.S. of 1,593,464 units, an increase of 1.9% over the prior year, setting an all-time record. Infiniti sales for calendar year 2017 increased 10.9% year-on-year to 153,415 units.

For the second consecutive month, the Rogue crossover was Nissan’s top-selling model with 403,465 sales, an increase of 22%.

Volkswagen of America Inc. reported an 18.7% drop in sales in December, in spite of strong SUV results mentioned earlier. For the year, the company reported good news with total sales for 2017 increasing by 5.2% compared with 2016.

Jaguar Land Rover North America LLC reported December 2017 U.S sales both brands dropped 9% from December 2016. For the full year 2017, Jaguar Land Rover U.S. sales reached 114,333 units, up 9% compared to 105,104 units in 2016, and establishing a new all-time U.S. sales record for the combined brands.

Other automakers reporting sales:

  • Subaru saw its December sales rise 5.4%, the 73rd consecutive month of increasing sales. Its 2017 sales also increased 5.4% compared with 2016 results.
  • Hyundai and its Genesis luxury brand were up 2% in December, but down 12% for the full year.
  • Kia’s monthly sales dipped 20.1% in December while its full year results were down as well by 8.9%.
  • Mazda’s sales were down 6.5% last month and its 2017 sales were off 2.8% versus 2016.
  • BMW enjoyed a 4.3% rise in the final month of the year, but a 2.4% fall for the full year.
  • Mercedes-Benz reported sales rose 6.4% for December while its full-year results were down 1.4%.

Mustafa Mohatarem, GM’s chief economist, forecasts 2018 total vehicle sales (including medium and heavy trucks) to exceed 17 million units for the fourth year in a row. Light vehicle sales are forecast to be in the high 16 million-unit range.

“In 2017, we had solid GDP growth and good news on employment, wages and consumer sentiment, which helped deliver very strong retail sales for the auto industry,” he said. “This year, many consumers will see their take-home pay rise because of tax reform. That will keep the broad economy growing, and help keep sales at very healthy levels even as the Fed increases interest rates.”

While industrywide sales for the year were down compared to the year ago results, pricing numbers on the vehicles sold were encouraging.

“Average transaction prices closed the year on a strong note, rising nearly 2% in December 2017 to set a record high,” said Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

(To see more about December auto sales forecasts, Click Here.)

“Incentive spending was a concern in 2017, averaging 10.4% of MSRP, but encouragingly, this figure held relatively flat over the final quarter of the year. In 2018, interest rate hikes could be another concern, as they threaten to increase monthly payments for consumers; however, Kelley Blue Book anticipates they will help contribute to another down year of new-vehicle sales more than impact prices, which have steadily risen along with the economy since the recession.”

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