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March 4, 2019

US February light vehicle sales chilled by storms and taxes

Mother Nature and Uncle Sam put the hurt on US light vehicle sales in February.

By bcusack

Mother Nature and Uncle Sam put the hurt on US light vehicle sales in February.

Total deliveries fell 2.9% to about 1.27m cars and light trucks. The seasonally adjusted annualised rate (SAAR) stood at 16.61m units, down 470,000 from last February. It was the lowest SAAR since February 2015.

Year-to-date sales for the first two months of 2019 were off 2.6% as the February deficit erased January’s small gain.

Winter storms, smaller tax refunds and lingering effects of the prolonged government shutdown were among the culprits. However, rising prices, rising interest rates and a healthy supply of choice late model used vehicles are also contributors and these are the factors that will challenge the industry long after winter and the tax season have ended.

Even Tesla couldn’t keep the US automakers in the black last month.

After 11 months of sales improvements, FCA joined Ford and General Motors in reporting a shortfall last month. Minivan deliveries crashed, down 27.2%, and Jeep volume fell by 4.2%. Of the companies six brands, only Ram beat its year-ago numbers. It should be noted that, based on estimated sales of the Chevrolet Silverado, the Ram pickup has taken the No. 2 spot in the sales volume rankings. We’ll know for sure next month, when GM reports quarterly sales.

Despite a drop of 4.3% in volume, Jeep remained the most popular brand in what remains the hottest segment.

Ford enjoyed an 8.7% increase in utility deliveries spearheaded by an 85.7% jump in sales of the imported EcoSport. A 5.1% drop in Ford brand sales was moderated by 15.3% improvement delivered by Lincoln.

Estimated sales for General Motors indicated a 5.3% fall. GM did hold the crown for the largest total crossover/SUV volume.

Fortunately for Detroit, the combined sales of the Japanese carmakers were even worse, allowing the Americans to add a bit to their market share.

All of the top Japanese manufacturers reported lower sales compared to February 2018. The Honda, Nissan and Toyota brands all came up short, and gains posted by Acura and Lexus weren’t enough to close the gap. Mitsubishi and Subaru were the only one reporting increased sales. Subaru kept its streak going with its 87th consecutive month of record volume.

The Koreans were the big winners in February as both Hyundai and Kia beat their numbers from last year. New utilities have helped address the car-heavy lineups at both brands.

“Jaguar Land Rover may be having financial issues but you wouldn’t know it from their US sales in February. Both brands set new records for the month”

Jaguar Land Rover may be having financial issues but you wouldn’t know it from their US sales in February. Both brands set new records for the month.

Volvo was the only other European automaker in the black at the end of the month.

BMW took the top spot among the upscale brands last month but Mercedes-Benz’s strong performance in January allowed it to keep the crown after the first two months of the year. Lexus claimed the No. 3 position, followed by Audi.

Crossovers and SUVs continue to work their way toward a 50% share of the light vehicle market. They accounted for 48.5% of total February volume.

Passenger cars gave back some of the share they took in January, falling back to 29.9% of total deliveries. Minivan sales plunged 23.6%.

Pickup sales were up slightly but it was all due to the mid-size trucks. Of the full size models, only the Ram finished the month ahead of its previous year’s mark. Increases reported for the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado were boosted by the Ford Ranger and the brand new Jeep Gladiator.

Next month marks the end of the first quarter, so we should have definitive reports from all the major auto companies.

* indicates a sales record. Note: Monthly sales figures for Ford and General Motors are estimates. **Volkswagen Group figures include Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen brands Other includes estimated sales for Aston-Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, McLaren and Rolls-Royce

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