Sunday, July 21, 2024

January auto sales weather winter storm; level with ’15

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Winter storms across much of the central and eastern United States didn’t stop consumers from driving off dealer lots in new vehicles.

Car and truck sales in the United States last month were essentially level (down 0.5 percent) compared to January 2015 with 1.15 million vehicles sold, according to Autodata Corp. Industry analysts expected the industry to be down as much as 4.5 percent.

“The American market overcame a variety of headwinds, including a literal headwind in the form of a major East Coast blizzard, to post positive results in January, outperforming our expectations,” said Kelley Blue Book Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst

Officials are downplaying the stagnant growth. The sales pace made for one of the three strongest Januarys ever, which is typically the slowest sales month of the year.

The Detroit automakers beat expectations but reported mixed results: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV sales were up 6.9 percent to 155,037 cars and trucks; General Motors Co. were up 0.5 percent to 203,745; and Ford Motor Co. sales were down 2.8 percent to 173,723.

Nissan Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Corp., Mercedes-Benz AG and BMW AG all reported sales gains of less than 2 percent. Kia Motors Corp. was level, while most others were down less than 5 percent. Volkswagen AG continued to struggle, with sales crashing 8.9 percent in the wake of the company’s diesel emissions scandal and dependence on cars.Utility vehicles — pickups, crossovers and SUVs — led the industry for nearly all major automakers, while car sales declined. Truck sales, which include SUVs and some crossovers, totaled 681,812 in January, up 6.5 percent. That compares to car sales declining 8.2 percent to 486,254.

“The drivers of the ‘car’ market’s strength are the same as they have been: sport utilities and pickup trucks as well as commercial vehicles,” said Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs. “Companies with portfolios heavy in those models did well in January.”

On the heels of Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s announcement it will discontinue U.S.-built Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart sedans in coming years to focus on hot-selling pickups and SUVs, the automaker’s total car sales in January were down 24.4 percent, while truck sales increased 18.8 percent.

The Ford brand had its best start for SUVs since 2004 — totaling 50,212 sales last month, a 3 percent increase versus a year ago.

“For Ford, overall transaction prices were up $1,800 in January — almost three times more than the overall industry average — driven largely by strong customer demand, especially for our SUVs and F-Series pickups,” said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service.

There were some bright spots for cars, as GM reported combined sales of Buick’s passenger cars were up 73 percent and Chevrolet retail car sales were up 25 percent.

GM sold 203,745 vehicles in January 2016, the company’s best January sales performance in eight years.

“GM began 2016 in very strong competitive position,” said Kurt McNeil, GM U.S. vice president of sales operations. “We built on that momentum in January, with Chevrolet, Buick and GMC outperforming the retail industry by a wide margin. In fact, Chevrolet continues to grow faster than any other full-line brand.”

Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep, Dodge and Ram Truck brands each posted year-over-year sales gains, with Dodge leading the pack with a 19.1 percent increase. Jeep posted a 14.6 percent increase, while Ram was up 5.2 percent. The Fiat and Chrysler brands were down 20.3 percent and 22.1 percent, respectively. Incremental sales of the subcompact Renegade pushed the Jeep brand to its best January sales ever and its 28th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains.

“Mother Nature was no match for our Jeep brand last month as we recorded our best January Jeep sales ever,” said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales. “Overall, FCA US achieved its best January sales in nine years and our 70th-consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases.”

Analysts expected winter storms, including “Snow Storm Jonas” from Jan. 22-24, to put a chill on vehicle sales in January. Many anticipate the industry to be down slightly compared to a year ago. The estimated decline ranged from less than 1 percent to more than 3 percent compared to January 2015, depending on the analyst.

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