#us auto sales
February auto sales up, but not for all
Trucks, SUV s and vans saw robust new-vehicle sales in February, while cars languished. USA Today s James R. Healey tells us about the shift happening within the auto industry. (MONEY, USA TODAY)
Buick Encore, which pioneered the mini-ute segment in the USA, is the only Buick model that reported better sales in February than a year ago. (Photo: Buick)
72 CONNECT TWEET 30 LINKEDIN 15 COMMENT EMAIL MORE
Monthly auto sales were up, but not for all automakers and not as much as some industry watchers forecast.
One jarring note: Toyota Motor outsold Ford Motor by 84 vehicles to take the No. 2 spot, behind General Motors. That’s unusual, but it was more a moment than a trend.
Toyota’s SUV sales rose significantly, while Ford’s overall sales fell because it hasn’t yet gotten production of the redesigned F-150 pickup up to speed at the Kansas City Assembly Plant. KCAP is the second of two F-150 plants to switch to building the new aluminum-body design.
The month includes the Presidents Day holiday that automakers and dealers say marks the beginning of the prime spring selling season.
Ahead of the sales reports, most forecasts were set for an annual pace of 16.7 million. With automakers that account for most sales reporting, the estimate slid as low as 16.2 million.
Slow February, slow year is the fear.
“Many people were predicting a hot February, but that wasn’t the case for several (automakers). Perhaps it was the weather,” said Akshay Anand, analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
Among the domestic makers, General Motors and FCA — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles — reported increases, while Ford dropped slightly on lack of full F-150 production.
The increases rode the backs of SUVs and other truck models.
At GM, for example, the Buick Encore mini-utility was up about 60% while every other Buick tanked. Chevrolet’s big Suburban SUV more than doubled last year’s tally.
Overall, GM truck sales rocketed 36% ahead of last year.
At FCA, Jeep SUV brand continued to be the headliner — up 21.1% for its best month ever.
Big Japan brands did better overall.
In spite of some soft sales totals — Ford and Volkswagen among them — TrueCar.com says the month is evidence that the “renaissance in the U.S. auto sector continues into February.”
• General Motors:
Sales overall were up 4.2%. A jump of 18.9% at the GMC brand, which sells only trucks and SUVs, plus a rise of 3.8% at the Chevrolet brand as its Silverado pickup and SUVs climbed high rescued the automaker from sales slumps at its Buick and Cadillac brands.
GM has put extraordinary time and money into developing Cadillac models that should equal BMWs, but buyers haven’t agreed so far.
Buick is disappointing, too, as GM has spent to heavily advertise the brand and its new, sportier personality. GM sells more Buicks in China than in the USA, though, so a soft U.S. market isn’t doom for the brand.
Buick’s issue is that the Encore mini-SUV, which has had that market alone, will be assaulted this year by “city-ute” rivals from GM’s own Chevrolet Trax, plus Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade and the Fiat 500X — all hitting the market this year.
• Ford Motor:
Sales of Ford and Lincoln brand new-vehicles in February were 180,383, down 2%.
The F-series, the automaker’s biggest seller, inched back 1.2% from a year ago, as Ford awaits the start of production this month of the redesigned F-150 at the Kansas City Assembly Plant.
Explorer SUV sales increased 32% in February, the best in nine years. Sales of the redesigned Mustang also rose 32%, best February since 2007.
Lincoln, Ford’s struggling luxury brand, was down 7.5%. A 32.5% jump in Lincoln SUV sales, mainly due to the Ford Escape-based, new-to-the-line MKC, couldn’t erase drops by the brand’s two car models and other SUVs.
The full-size Transit van, introduced last year to replace most versions of the Econoline, or E-series, van, drove a 30% increase in total Ford van sales. It was Ford’s best February van sales performance since 2007.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles continued its years-long streak of monthly sales improvements, reporting Tuesday that it sold 163,586 new cars and trucks in February, up 5.6% from a year earlier.
It was the company’s best February sales since 2007 and its 59th consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases. That could be a difficult string to continue, as the comparisons increasingly are to strong results the previous year.
The Chrysler, Jeep and Ram brands each posted year-over-year sales gains in February compared with the same month a year ago.
Jeep remained the star — up 21.1%, the biggest gain of any FCA U.S. brand during the month and Jeep’s best February sales ever.
Jeep’s success highlights a potential weakness at the company — a heavy reliance on truck models. Pickups, SUVs and vans were 72% of FCA’s February U.S. sales, compared with about 52% of the overall industry mix.
Those vehicles have lately boomed in sales partly because of falling gasoline prices. But now gas prices are moving back up and buyers might turn their attention to cars, which typically use less fuel than trucks.
Reid Bigland, FCA sales chief in the USA, noted that “even with tougher year-over-year sales comparisons in 2015, our vehicle lineup continues to produce record sales results.”
Nine set records in February, including four of the five Jeep brand vehicles; Patriot turned in its best sales month ever; Cherokee, Wrangler and Compass each recorded its best February sales.
The Dodge Challenger, Fiat 500L, Chrysler 200, Ram ProMaster and Ram Cargo Van each recorded best-ever February sales.
• American Honda:
Combined Honda and Acura sales in February were up 5%, to 105,466 new vehicles.
Acura light trucks — RDX and MDX SUVs — set a February record, rising 12.5% to 8,415 vehicles. The brand’s total was 12,992, p 12.5%.
The Honda brand posted 92,474 sales, up 4.%.
• Toyota Motor:
Combined sales of Toyota, Scion and Lexus brands in February were 180,467, an increase of 13.3% from February 2014.
The automaker’s truck models set a February sales record, in line with other maker’s results.
Sales by the Lexus luxury brand jumped 22%, scoring a February sales record for Lexus.
“The auto industry is off to its best start since 2007 as truck demand continues to rise,” said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager. “Sales of Toyota light trucks and SUVs, led by RAV4, set a new February record.”
• Nissan Group:
Sales of the Nissan and Infiniti brands combined set a February record of U.S. sales, hitting 118,436 new vehicles. That was up 2.7% from a year earlier.
The Nissan brand rose 1.1%, to 106,777 new-vehicle sales, a February record for the brand.
Infiniti sales jumped 19.8%, to 11,659.
The strong results came “in spite of winter weather that gripped some key southern and eastern U.S. markets,” said Fred Diaz, senior vice president, of Nissan U.S. sales and marketing. “Consumer demand for small crossovers continues to grow, and Nissan took advantage tying the best month for Rogue sales in its history.”
Nissan was on the SUV bandwagon:
• Rogue sales tied a record for any month at 21,419, an increase of 24.6%.
• Pathfinder SUV set a February record — 7,066, up 11%.
• Sales of Nissan’s commercial van lineup, including the full-size NV and smaller NV200, were up 38.4%.
VW sales fell 5.2% to 25,710.
The redesigned Golf small car roared 137.8% ahead of the previous February, but that wasn’t enough to counter declines of all other VW models.
• BMW Group:
BMW ‘s Mini brand, powered by redesigned — and larger — Cooper two-door and four-door hardtop models, zoomed 51.3% in February, helping pull BMW Group to an 18.2% sales increase in February.
Following the industry pattern of the month, BMW’s SUVs posted a 24.1% sales increase, while its cars did well, up 10.4%.
The industry’s sales tallies come as the average transaction price for a new vehicle in the USA continues to rise, according to Kelley Blue Book. In February, buyers paid an average $33,299 in the USA, up 4% from a year ago, according to the auto research and shopping site.
However, new-car prices are down 0.6% from January, the site says.
A higher mix of SUVs, particularly full-size and midsize, is helping drive up the industry average price.
And long new-car loans are keeping payments down, making pricier vehicles seem affordable. But extended loans stretch the length of time it takes to pay down the balance to the point the car’s worth more than you owe. That leaves owners with nothing of value to trade in and can keep today’s buyers out of the new-car market for many tomorrows.
Mercedes saw sales rise 3.1% to 25,749 for the month, according to Autodata.
The brand got a nice boost from C-Class sedan sales, up 36%, and the new, smaller CLA, up 32.2%. On the truck side. the GL Class was up 6% and the GLK was down 32.1%. But the brand was helped by the introduction of its new small crossover, the GLA.
72 CONNECT TWEET 30 LINKEDIN 15 COMMENT EMAIL MORE