US deliveries of light vehicles were down 3.3% in the first quarter of 2019 as March volume fell 3.2%.
Even though industry volume fell to a total of slightly more than 1.6m cars, utilities and light trucks, the seasonally adjusted annualised sales rate (SAAR) was a surprisingly robust 17.42m, beating not only February’s reading but the 17.33m from March 2018.
Last month had one fewer selling day than March 2018 and the daily sales rate was slightly ahead of last year, up 0.4%.
Total Q1 volume was close to 4m units compared to 4.1m after the first three months of 2018.
Crossovers and SUVs added to their share of the sales pie, gaining 1.8% and finishing the quarter with 47.8% of total industry volume. The utility vehicles are tantalisingly close to taking half the market but they aren’t there just yet.
Pickup trucks added about 0.5% to their share but that was all due to the mid-size models, including the Ford Ranger and new Jeep Gladiator, which reported its first retail sales in March.
Full size pickup sales were off by 3.9%, led by a slight drop in deliveries of the Ford F-Series and a larger drop in sales of the Chevrolet Silverado.
With GM’s release of actual quarterly results, it became official: the Ram pickup beat the Chevy in both March and Q1 volume. The Ram is now second on the US bestseller list.
Plunging car sales hurt Ford and General Motors quarterly results. Volume in that segment fell 23.7% at Ford and 20.1% at GM. The two largest US automakers can’t seem to get out of the car business fast enough.
A double digit drop in Jeep deliveries left FCA in the red though Jeep remained the most popular brand of SUV. On the other hand, the success of the new Ram and the fact that the Dodge Challenger continued to outsell the Chevy Camaro probably brightened faces in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The Dodge Charger remained the bestselling full size vehicle.
The Charger will soon have another distinction: it will be the last remaining police car brand in the US. Ford is winding down the Taurus-based Police Interceptor and GM has dropped both the Caprice and Impala Police Pursuit models. That is not as much of a plus at it might seem: law enforcement agencies are switching to utilities like the Ford Police Interceptor Utility based on the current Explorer.
Subaru set another monthly sales record making it 88 consecutive months of improvement. Subaru outpaced the combined sales of Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen in the first quarter.
Despite shortfalls at Nissan and Toyota, the Japanese automakers were able to add 0.6% to their combined market share. Honda and Mitsubishi joined Subaru in the winners’ column.
Thanks to the addition of new crossover models, Hyundai and Kia both posted gains for both March and the first quarter. The Korean automakers raised their share of the market to 7.4% from 6.8% at the end of March 2018.
Jaguar’s 13% improvement couldn’t quite cover Land Rover’s 13% decline in March but the pair were among the top European finishers in the quarterlies. Volvo was the only one to beat the Jaguar Land Rover mark.
Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen all reported increases. Porsche set a new March sales record in the US.
The road ahead is anything but clear. While current economic signs are encouraging, there are a number of significant factors in a state of flux. Retail sales depend on customers with confidence in the economy. Quoted in FCA’s sales release, Ram COO Reid Bigland expressed confidence, noting that the housing market was regaining strength and interest rates were coming down.
If Bigland’s vision is accurate, the very soft landing of the automotive industry can be maintained even while major changes are coming.
* 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