Ford delivered more than 70,000 F-series pickups in April

Ford delivered more than 70,000 F-series pickups in April

High margin trucks are continuing to dominate the US light vehicle market, driven by low oil prices, available finance, new product action and a growing US economy. However, some market segments are slowing. Bill Cawthon analyses the latest data.

The latest data for the US light vehicle market shows little sign of a slowing in US consumers' appetite for trucks, despite some indications that overall demand is now topping out.

Though an improvement over March, the April SAAR (at 17.4m) was the second lowest of the year. April 2015 was the last month that the SAAR was below 17m and comparisons in the months ahead may be disappointing. Despite petrol prices rising to their highest level since mid-October 2015, light truck sales continued to dominate, capturing 60% of total light vehicle sales.

April was a decent month for US light vehicle sales. Volume increased 3.5% to 1.5m cars and light trucks. The seasonally adjusted annualised rate (SAAR) came in at 17.42m, 670,000 better than April 2015 and 850,000 ahead of March 2016.

The growth in crossover and SUV continues, although the pace has been slowing since March. April market share was 38.1%, up from March's 37.3% but down from the 38.8% in January and 38.2% in February.

Pickups claimed their largest share of the year with 15.4% of total sales as volume rose 12.1% in April. The Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram pickups remained the top three best sellers in the U.S. market.

Concerns have been raised about the heavy dependence of the Detroit Three on full-size pickups, but that may be premature. The bellwether is Ford, which gets a larger percentage of its sales from commercial and government fleet sales than any other automaker. So far this year, Ford's fleet sales volume is up 26.3% and it represents 34.9% of total Ford deliveries.

Sales of commercial vans also indicate a healthy appetite on the part of businesses. Sales in the segment were up 23.2% in April with almost all models reporting increased turnover. Fiat Chrysler's van sales rose 70.8% last month and the order went out to increase production of the Ram ProMaster City, the US version of the Fiat Doblo.

If the increase in oil prices can be sustained, pickup sales would likely increase as well; oil, oilfield service, and exploration companies make heavy use of pickups.

What may prove to be a concern are retail sales of full-size pickups. As Chevrolet, Ford, GMC and Ram have added more and more content to their trucks, the prices keep rising and they are rising faster than consumer incomes. With the availability of lower-priced mid-size pickups, both retail and commercial customers may look at the alternative.

Minivans were the hottest segment in April with sales up 28.6%. Market share rose 0.7% compared to April 2015. The Dodge Caravan was the bestseller for the month and the first four months of 2016.

Estimated transaction prices increased an average of 1.9% compared to April 2015 but incentives were estimated to be up 13.3%. Fiat Chrysler had the largest year-over-year price increase at 4.9% but also had the largest jump in incentive spending with an average of $3,967 per vehicle, an increase of 25.1%.

Mercedes set a new sales record as it captured the luxury crown in both monthly and year-to-date reckonings. BMW squeaked by Lexus with a 69-unit margin to take the runner-up spot.

Volvo's new XC90 is giving the brand a huge boost. Volvo sales were up 33.1% in April despite the fact that car sales plunged 37.8%.

Audi, Honda, Kia, Nissan, Porsche and Subaru set monthly sales records.

May should prove interesting. There's the Memorial Day weekend but there are two fewer selling days in the month. Stay tuned.

See also: US market still growing, but growth slowing

Members' Report: U.S. light vehicle sales

ManufacturerCurrent MonthVolumeDaily SalesMarket ShareFull YearVolume Change
Mar-12Mar-11ChangeRate ChangeMar-12Mar-1120162015
FCA US LLC199,631189,0275.6%1.7%13.3%13.0%750,718694,8818.0%
Ford Motor Co.229,739221,6523.6%-0.2%15.3%15.2%871,326813,5527.1%
General Motors Co.259,557269,055-3.5%-7.1%17.2%18.5%943,255953,094-1.0%
Detroit Total688,927679,7341.4%-2.4%45.7%46.7%2,565,2992,461,5274.2%
American Honda*148,829130,06814.4%10.2%9.9%8.9%506,532464,0119.2%
Mazda North America26,19524,1238.6%4.6%1.7%1.7%90,838102,165-11.1%
Mitsubishi9,6748,21617.7%13.4%0.6%0.6%34,88632,0069.0%
Nissan North America*123,861109,84812.8%8.6%8.2%7.5%524,065477,4769.8%
Subaru*50,38047,2416.6%2.7%3.3%3.2%182,777178,5222.4%
Toyota Motor Sales211,125203,3293.8%0.0%14.0%14.0%780,204778,9490.2%
Japan Total570,064522,8259.0%5.0%37.8%35.9%2,119,3022,033,1294.2%
Hyundai62,21368,009-8.5%-11.9%4.1%4.7%235,543240,038-1.9%
Kia*56,50853,2826.1%2.1%3.8%3.7%202,829194,3824.3%
Korea Total118,721121,291-2.1%-5.7%7.9%8.3%438,372434,4200.9%
BMW North America29,74732,428-8.3%-11.7%2.0%2.2%111,199123,697-10.1%
Daimler AG*32,29132,2480.1%-3.6%2.1%2.2%116,600117,676-0.9%
Jaguar Land Rover6,2756,390-1.8%-5.4%0.4%0.4%32,07727,70215.8%
Maserati North America1,0661,0600.6%-3.2%0.1%0.1%3,3162,98910.9%
Volkswagen Group**50,43352,295-3.6%-7.1%3.3%3.6%174,206183,602-5.1%
Volvo Cars North America6,1694,63633.1%28.1%0.4%0.3%22,53018,35822.7%
Europe Total125,981129,057-2.4%-6.0%8.4%8.9%459,928474,024-3.0%
Other (est.)2,7382,5616.9%3.0%0.2%0.2%10,7109,52112.5%
Total Light Vehicles1,506,4311,455,4683.5%-0.3%100.0%100.0%5,593,6115,412,6213.3%

* indicates a sales record.

**Volkswagen Group figures include Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Volkswagen brands

Other includes estimated sales for Aston-Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, Rolls-Royce and Tesla

Source: Manufacturer's reported sales

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