Crossovers like the locally built Subaru Ascent and SUVs commanded 46% of all US sales in May

Crossovers like the locally built Subaru Ascent and SUVs commanded 46% of all US sales in May

While April showers may have had little influence, an extra selling day and a holiday weekend definitely helped US light vehicle sales to bloom in May.

Total estimated turnover reached nearly 1.6m last month, a 4.7% gain over May 2017.

After five months, industry volume hit about 7.07m units, up 1.2% from last year.

[Note: While General Motors won't officially report its sales until the end of the quarter, there are various estimates of GM deliveries so we have included them. Even without the GM numbers, US light vehicle sales would have grown 3.5% and would be in the black by 0.7% for the first five months of 2018.]

May's seasonally adjusted annualised rate was 16.91m, better than last May but the lowest measurement since August 2017.

The Detroit automakers had a good month: all three beat their year-ago numbers.

Passenger car sales fell again. Cars accounted for less than 32% of total May sales. Beyond that, Detroit's share of that shrinking pie was also dwindling. Combined sales of Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford and Lincoln cars made up just 24.4% of total passenger car deliveries in May.

While petrol prices are rising in the US, it's unlikely they will hit a threshold that triggers a shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles. Moreover, there is a growing number of alternatives, such as compact crossovers and hybrids, that provide better fuel economy while offering the utility that Americans want and the profitability that carmakers need.

Crossovers and SUVs commanded 46% of all sales in May. Total utility volume grew by 17.9% year-over-year and year-to-date (YTD) sales were up 13%. Utilities now make up more than 57% of all 'people mover' sales, including cars, minivans, MPVs, crossovers and sport utility vehicles

Crossovers and SUVs commanded 46% of all sales in May. Total utility volume grew by 17.9% year-over-year and year-to-date (YTD) sales were up 13%. Utilities now make up more than 57% of all 'people mover' sales, including cars, minivans, MPVs, crossovers and sport utility vehicles.

The American brands held a 43.1% share of the May utility total and it was fairly solid. YTD share was 42.8%.

May also enjoyed robust pickup sales. Full-size volume rose 9.3% while the mid-size trucks reported a 20.8% gain. Chevy, Ford and Ram own the full-size pickup market with 93% of all sales. Their share of the mid-size market has grown, as well, going from 30% to 32.6% comparing the first five months of this year with the same period in 2017. With the introduction of the new Ford Ranger mid-size pickup, the Detroit share of that segment will continue to grow.

FCA has ended passenger car production in the US, Ford is dropping sedans from its North American model line. They just can't be produced at a profit in the US or Canada and there's little incentive to 'federalise' cars built for other markets.

Cars used to be important to automakers as a way to hit EPA fuel standards. More efficient cars could balance out less efficient light trucks. However, more miserly truck engines and alternative powertrains have eliminated much of that need. It also looks likely the US government will roll back the Obama-era fuel efficiency targets and might even stop granting waivers to California, making the nation stick with a single standard. For the first time, it may be possible for automakers to meet CAFE standards with light trucks alone. The total profitability and savings impact for the industry could be a windfall in the billions of US dollars.

There are still some clouds on the horizon. Loan amounts and monthly payments rose to new records in May and interest rates are now at their highest point in several years. Average transaction prices continued to rise even though incentives remained fairly steady last month. But with US unemployment falling to levels not seen in decades, there is likely to be upward pressure on wages, perhaps making these new loans affordable for more people.

US light vehicle sales by manufacturer, May 2018

May 2018May 2017%chDaily Sales Rate chSharre May 18Share May 17YTD 18YTD 17%ch
FCA US LLC214294193040116.713.512.79132128800143.8
Ford Motor Co.2415272402500.5-3.315.215.810421771067231-2.3
General Motors (est.)263539237364116.816.615.6121723311712913.9
Detroit Total7193606706547.33.145.244.1317262231185361.7
American Honda1530691484143.1-0.89.69.8641261652093-1.7
Mazda North America299802604715.110.71.91.713703111928214.9
Mitsubishi Motors12416942931.726.60.80.6561784695119.7
Nissan North America*131832137471-4.1-7.88.39635599676360-6
Subaru of America*60146561357.133.83.72630192527534.1
Toyota Motors NA215321218252-1.3-5.113.514.49797109527912.8
Japan Total6027645957481.2-2.737.939.2271279827002300.5
Hyundai Motor America660566001110.15.84.23.9270995291853-7.1
Kia Motors America59462585071.6-2.33.73.8236992239593-1.1
Korea Total1255181185185.91.87.97.8507987531446-4.4
BMW North America30888298813.4-0.61.921424691379193.3
Mercedes-Benz USA3018730290-0.3-4.21.92147283147415-0.1
Jaguar Land Rover9469810616.812.30.60.550231477985.1
Maserati North America9501265-24.9-27.80.10.146135820-20.7
Volkswagen Group**55696542262.7-1.23.53.62577742413986.8
Volvo Cars USA9338620250.644.80.60.4377542680240.9
Europe Total136528129970518.68.66401246071525.4
Other (est.)6559488734.229.10.40.3327642444434
Total Light Vehicles159072915197774.70.6100100706629569818081.2

Source: Manufacturer reported sales

 * indicates a sales record.
**Volkswagen Group figures include Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Volkswagen brands
Other includes estimated sales for Aston-Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, McLaren, Rolls-Royce and Tesla