The prophets missed their targets in March. Most everyone was looking for an improved month, even predicting the best March since 2000. Whoops.
In spite of estimated incentives up 13.4% compared to last year, US light vehicle sales once again were down slightly, dropping 1.7% to a bit more than 1.55m cars and trucks. The seasonally adjusted annualised rate (SAAR) was down slightly, shedding about 50,000 units to 16.62m.
There was little joy in the Motor City; General Motors was the only carmaker in the black and it was up by just 1.6%. Fiat Chrysler’s 4.6% deficit and Ford’s 7.2% miss swamped GM’s results and left the Detroit Three down 3.3% and cost 0.8% of market share.
The continuing slump in Jeep deliveries left the door open for Ford which has taken over the lead as the bestselling SUV brand. That’s a good place to be as that segment is still the fast growing. In March, crossovers and SUVs claimed 41.1% of the total market as sales rose 9.5%. Automakers have sold nearly 1.7m utilities in the first three months of this year.
While American Honda missed its 2016 mark by 0.7%, the Honda brand set a new sales record. Honda was joined in the record books by Nissan which delivered a record March and Nissan’s upscale Infiniti brand which had its best month ever.
Infiniti was the only Japanese premium marque to beat its year ago total. Sales of Honda’s Acura brand and Toyota’s Lexus dropped by 21.2% and 7.5%, respectively.
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Mazda and Mitsubishi finished March on a positive note and Subaru set another record.
Nissan’s record and the good numbers from the smaller automakers gave the Japanese companies a small increase and more than a percent of additional market share.
Both Korean automakers fell last month. Hyundai and Kia came up 11.1% shy of their targets and gave up 0.8% of market share. Kia’s year to date (YTD) sales are down 12.7%, one of the largest shortfalls in the industry.
The majority of the European brands came in ahead of March 2016. BMW took the luxury crown for the month but Mercedes-Benz still has a solid grip on the YTD lead. Jaguar Land Rover posted its best sales month ever. Volkswagen Group had a good month with all brands in the black. Audi set another monthly sales record; Bentley sales soared 109.2% thanks to the Continental GT and Bentayga. The Panamera and Macan gave Porsche a positive finish for the month and Volkswagen sales rose 2.7%.
The outlier was Volvo where an ongoing shortage of the XC90 is putting the hurt on turnover. Excluding the XC90, Volvo would have been in positive territory.
While everyone is reluctant to give up on another record sales year, it is a bit iffy at this point. March is generally one of the best sales months of the year. Sales through the end of the first quarter are down 1.6%. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that the market is headed for a major correction so no need to panic; there’s still plenty of profit in a nearly 17m sale year.
Members’ Report: U.S. light vehicle 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, Rolls-Royce and Tesla
Source: Manufacturer’s reported sales