New car sales for January 2018: winners and losers
U.S. light-vehicle sales rose 1.2 percent in January with higher incentives and light-truck demand luring consumers even as severe cold temperatures across large swaths of the country put a chill in some showroom traffic.
The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate for January came in at 17.18 million, on par with the average estimate from analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, but down from 17.43 million in January 2017 and December’s blistering 17.86 million rate.
Higher fleet shipments, notably at GM, Toyota and Nissan, also helped the industry record its fourth-best January — 1,157,407 car and light truck deliveries. The month is historically the weakest period of the year for volume.
Deliveries to fleets surged 48 percent last month for Nissan and 69 percent for Toyota, Bloomberg reported, citing Cox Automotive.
“We’re encouraged by the strength of the market,” Jack Hollis, general manager of the Toyota Division, said today.
Toyota Motor Corp. posted its biggest U.S. sales gain in nearly four years while Fiat Chrysler recorded another double-digit decline as automakers marked January with contrasting fortunes.
Toyota’s 17 percent advance reflected its biggest monthly jump since May of 2014. General Motors, with a boost from fleet sales, chalked up its fourth-straight monthly gain while Nissan Motor volume climbed 10 percent.
Ford Motor Co. ended a four-month winning streak with a 6.3 percent decline. FCA US extended its losing skid to 17 months while continuing to slash fleet deliveries.
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GM notched a 1.3 percent advance last month. Volume rose 5 percent at Chevrolet thanks to truck and crossover demand. Buick was up 4 percent, while GMC dropped 11 percent and Cadillac fell 3.9 percent.
GM retail deliveries dipped 2 percent and fleet sales rose 16 percent. Combined commercial and government deliveries jumped 44 percent; daily rental volume was off 7 percent.
Ford Motor’s 6.3 percent decline stemmed from a 23 percent decline in car volume and a 12 percent drop in fleet shipments.
Nissan Motor Co. said its sales rose 10 percent, with volume up 12 percent to a January record of 112,903 at the Nissan brand but down 8 percent at Infiniti. Combined sales of Nissan brand crossovers, trucks and SUVs set a January record, up 18 percent, the company said.
FCA US sales fell 13 percent. Retail volume rose 2 percent to 111,577 but fleet shipments were off 50 percent. Demand rose 2.2 percent at Jeep and fell 16 percent or more at the Ram, Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat brands.
Among other luxury brands, January deliveries increased 61 percent at Volvo, 4.7 percent at Porsche, 5 percent at BMW and Land Rover, and 9.9 percent at Audi, but dropped 11 percent at Jaguar and Genesis.
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Sales last month continued to be driven by healthy light-truck demand, notably crossovers, while car and fleet volumes remained weak. Overall, light truck demand surged 8.1 percent while car volume skidded 11 percent in January.
Low interest rates and gasoline prices, steady job gains and lofty U.S. equity markets also are supporting industry sales, automakers and analysts say.
The U.S. new-vehicle market, after seven straight annual gains capped by a record 2016, dropped 1.8 percent to 17.245 million last year.
While tax reform is expected to provide a lift to U.S. sales, analysts say rising interest rates will counter any gains in 2018. The Federal Reserve declined to raise interest rate this week but signaled it is prepared to do so next in March.
Overall, U.S. sales are forecast to drop below 17 million in 2018 for the first time in three years, with most 2018 estimates from analysts ranging from 16.7 million to 16.9 million.
AutoNation Inc., the nation’s biggest dealership group, on Thursday projected new light-vehicle deliveries will total 16.8 million this year.
“The marginal expected year-over-year contraction will be caused by the reduced availability of auto credit, falling used-car prices, rising interest rates, and less favorable lease options for consumers,” S&P said in a report this month.
“There’s a lot of good economic news to support an optimistic view of automotive sales this year,” said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive. “Record equity markets, low unemployment, strong consumer confidence – a recipe for robust vehicle demand. And the recent passage of tax reform will only add additional support.”
But Chesbrough says the industry also faces several headwinds in early 2018, notably reduced incentives “from recent levels as year-end clearance sales end.” Off-lease vehicles at dealerships after the fall’s pull-ahead programs will also capture some new-vehicle buyers, he says.
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Ahead of today’s reports, sales were projected by analysts polled by Bloomberg to rise at most major automakers: 3.4 percent at GM, 9 percent at Toyota, 2.5 percent at Honda Motor, 2.1 percent at Nissan Motor, 1.3 percent at Hyundai-Kia and 5.2 percent at Volkswagen-Audi. January volume was forecast to fall 1.5 percent at Ford Motor and 10 percent at FCA US.
The average new-vehicle incentive was tracking at $3,733 in the first few weeks of January, J.D. Power says, and was expected to set a record to start a year. ALG estimates the average new-vehicle incentive rose 9.8 percent to $3,812 in January compared to January 2017. GM, Ford, FCA and Nissan, among major broadline automakers, were the biggest spenders on spiffs last month. (See chart below.) “Incentives continue to be a struggle, with automakers once again eclipsing the 11 percent mark in incentive spending as a percentage of average transaction price,” said Eric Lyman, ALG’s chief industry analyst.
A boost from tax reform?
Some analysts believe large pickups could be a beneficiary of recent U.S. tax reform. The legislation allows businesses filing as pass-through entities — including sole proprietorships and partnerships — to deduct up to 20 percent of qualified business income. “With construction and related small businesses active in the pickup market, the net result should improve the after-tax earnings of some small business owners — which could boost pickup sales for their small fleets,” Barclays analyst Brian Johnson said in a note to investors this week. “In addition, under the new tax act commercial fleets can likely enjoy faster depreciation schedules, further supporting pickup sales.”
“Consumer confidence in January was the second-best reading in more than 17 years and up substantially over last year. We’re seeing no signs of auto purchase intent wavering with the percentage of consumers planning on buying in the next 6 months up more than 7 percent according to the January Conference Board data. The increase in intentions to buy lines up quite well with web shopping behavior, as our Dealer.com sites saw visits per dealership increase 5 percent year over year.”
chief economist for Cox Automotive
Odds & ends
There were 25 selling days last month vs. 24 in January 2017 … Kelley Blue Book says average transaction prices for new vehicles rose nearly 4 percent to $36,270 in January from January 2017 as the shift from cars to light trucks becomes “particularly extreme lately.” In the midsize car segment, average transaction prices rose 3 percent to $25,865 in January, largely reflecting the redesigned Toyota Camry and Honda Accord … J.D. Power says days to turn, the average number of days a new vehicle sits on a dealer lot before being sold to a retail customer, was 71 through Jan. 21 … Light trucks accounted for 67 percent of U.S. light-vehicle deliveries in the first three weeks of the year, the highest level ever recorded in January … Among major automakers, FCA is still looking for its first monthly sales gain, year over year, since Aug. 2016 and Hyundai-Kia hasn’t posted a monthly gain since Nov. 2016 … Incentives, expressed as a percentage of sticker price, stood at 10 percent in early January, matching or exceeding the 10 percent threshold for the 18th time over the last 19 months, J.D. Power says.
“Optimism for a solid 2018 seems to be growing,” said Jeff Schuster, head of forecasting at LMC Automotive. “Most variables are aligned favorably, with the majority of that positive weight being carried by an expected boost in the economy. The tax cut is expected to help drive the economy toward the 3 percent growth level, which we haven’t seen since 2005.”
“U.S. sales start 2018 with a gain behind trucks, spiffs, fleet” originally appeared in Automotive News on 2/1/18 and was updated 2/2/18
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