According to preliminary estimates, US Light Vehicle (LV) sales grew by 5.5% year-on-year (YoY) in March, to 1.44 million units. The market delivered another month of YoY growth – a streak which now extends to 20 consecutive months – but year-ago sales were still relatively low, making the gain easier to achieve. For Q1 as a whole, sales were up by 5.1% YoY, reaching 3.75 million units. US LV sales totaled 1.44 million units in March, according to GlobalData. The annualized selling rate for the month was 15.5 million units/year, down from 15.8 million units/year in February. The daily selling rate was estimated at 53.2k units/day in March, compared to 49.9k units/day in February. March is typically a strong month for auto sales, helped by calendar effects and end-of-quarter targets. In addition, March is the end of the financial year for some OEMs. Last month did not see a return to pre-pandemic levels, or even the unusually strong result that was seen in March 2021, but volumes comfortably beat those for the same month in 2022 and 2023. According to initial estimates, retail sales totaled 1.15 million units in March, while fleet sales accounted for approximately 292k units, representing around 20.3% of total sales.

AR explainer

How is Augmented Reality (AR) tech going to be used in the automotive sector? AR is used in various areas of the automotive sector. A notable application is head-up displays (HUDs) and headset infotainment systems, which use AR as part of augmented GPS navigation, warning systems, and to ease poor light conditions. AR headsets are being used in maintenance and manufacturing to reduce training time and perform updates and quality control checks more efficiently and accurately. The advancement of AR in the automotive sector will be key to the metaverse, as it is based on AR-related technology. The metaverse concept (a virtual world where users share experiences and interact in real-time within simulated scenarios) has gained and lost traction since the beginning of 2021. AR-related technologies such as simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), facial recognition, and motion tracking will be vital for developing metaverse-based use cases.

Is this Lexus’ year?

Coming off a worldwide record of 824,258 sales in 2023, might this year be even stronger for Toyota’s luxury division? The potential is certainly there, thanks not only to existing momentum but the addition of models such as the LBX. This small crossover should do especially well in Lexus’ Europe region, where more than 69,000 vehicles were sold last year. That was not only despite the semiconductor crisis but another one-off hit being the end of exports to Russia. With 355,606 deliveries in North America during 2023, this remains far away the number one region for the brand, thirty five years on from its world debut there. And now with a name check rhyme in the massively successful lead track off the instantly iconic, Cowboy Carter, could Lexus possibly be any more state-of-the-art 2024 culturally American? If success in the USA seems assured to continue, things look very good in China too. It cannot be noted often enough how impressive an achievement this remains, the brand being an imports-only one there. Even allowing for the taxes which make such cars, MPVs and SUVs fairly expensive, more than 180,000 were snapped up by local buyers.

China rising slows

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China’s auto market improved slightly in February. Total Light Vehicle (LV) domestic sales (i.e. wholesales excluding exports) reached 1.2 million units in the month, decreasing by 27.5% year-on-year (YoY) and dropping by 40.3% month-on-month (MoM). At the vehicle type level, Passenger Vehicle (PV) sales for February decreased by 26.9% YoY to 1.0 million units. At the same time, commercial vehicles (CV) dropped to 153k units decreasing by 31.4% YoY in February. In terms of the MoM growth rate, PV decreased by 43.0%, and CV fell by 11.4% over the same time. Domestic sales (i.e. wholesale, excluding exports) improved slightly in February after a weak start to the year. The selling rate in February was 20.5 million units/year, an increase of only 5.9% from the sluggish January. The year-to-date (YTD) average selling rate is 19.9 million units/year, well below last year’s total LV sales of 25.2 million units. The important reason for the sharp MoM and YoY declines in February is that the Spring Festival holiday resulted in fewer sales days, and some car companies pulled forward sales from early 2024 into 2023 to hit annual sales targets. In addition, the price war after the Spring Festival heated up rapidly, forming a considerable wait-and-see trend, and this combined with the anticipated release of a new favourable policy in March, resulted in an adverse February sales trend. In terms of production, total LV production in February was 1.4 million units, a decrease of 26.3% YoY and 37.7% MoM. The YTD volume in 2024 is 3.7 million units, with a slight growth of 7.1%. At a vehicle type level, PV production (accounting for 90% of total LV production) in February was 1.3 million units, a YoY increase of 25.1%. CV production in February was 167k units, a significant decrease of 34.3% YoY.

HERE they go

HERE Technologies had much to announce at this year’s CES from partnerships with Lotus, to reducing range anxiety, and working with Uber. During this year’s CES, leading location data and technology platform, HERE Technologies, announced a number of new collaborations and technology installations. One of these announcements included the company publicizing its long-term collaboration with Uber. This partnership aims to enhance Uber’s mapping capabilities globally for food deliveries and rideshare. Technology provided by HERE allows Uber to enable precise mapping and geolocation functionalities, improving pickup and drop-off locations. Alongside this announcement, HERE also stated that it will be extending its collaboration with Lotus, powering the brand’s fully electric hyper-GT, the Emeya, with the ‘HERE Navigation’ application. The installation of the technology within the hyper-car provides the Emeya with an all-inclusive navigation experience including HERE’s EV Range Assistant package, machine-learning based charge point predictions, multi-stop routing and range-on-route. With ‘HERE EV Range Factors’, the company has supplemented OEM routing solutions with their own technology, allowing OEMs to increase the accuracy of their EV’s route-focused range predictions, reducing customer range and charge anxiety. The technology also offers road topography, and wind and temperature data for an increased and improved EV range calculation, enabling OEMs to optimise battery use. We spoke to Jason Jameson, chief customer officer, HERE Technologies, to learn more about these announcements, and the benefits the technology brings.

Marysville’s #15,000,000

Honda’s Marysville Auto Plant (MAP) in Ohio this week built its 15 millionth vehicle, almost 22 years after Job One, a second generation Accord sedan, rolled off the line on 1 November 1982. Starting in the late ’70s, Nissan, Honda and Toyota were the first Japanese automakers to build so called ‘transplants’ in the US south (BMW, Mercedes and VW would follow) to appease auto union and politicians’ calls for protective tariffs on imported autos and, over the subsequent decades, have greatly increased local employment opportunities and use of North American produced parts. ‘Fifteen mill’ is a fair old tally for just one facility, opened initially to build Honda’s Gold Wing touring motorcycle and now encompassing multiple buildings and production lines. The next Marysville milestone will be becoming the first Honda plant in North America to produce a battery electric vehicle, using batteries from a nearby JV with LGES. Onwards and upwards.

The data week

Tesla shares fell on Tuesday after the company reported a drop in vehicle deliveries in the first quarter, the first annual decline since 2020, when the global pandemic disrupted production. The decline followed a long period of underlying ramp-up and spooked investors. The worry is that Tesla is facing increasing headwinds in markets around the world, not least in the shape of cheap EVs coming out of China from the likes of BYD. There’s still a price war on in China that makes life difficult there for premium EV makers. Meanwhile, in the US, Fisker has decided to slash prices also.

Xiaomi delivers

Xiaomi Automobile, the battery electric vehicle (BEV) unit of Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi, delivered its first batch to customers this week. The Beijing based company’s newly launched SU7 electric sedan was delivered to buyers in 28 cities across the country as China’s newest BEV maker stepped up its sales drive in an increasingly competitive domestic market where rival automakers are offering increasingly deep discounts to attract customers.

Chery Vietnam plant

Chinese state owned automaker Chery Automobile has agreed to build an US$800m assembly plant in Vietnam through a joint venture (JV) with a private local company, the ministry of trade said in a statement after a signing ceremony on Thursday. The automaker’s Omoda & Jaecoo unit would establish the JV with Geleximco, a diversified Hanoi-based property, finance and industrial group, to establish and manage the electric vehicle (EV) plant to be built in the coastal province of Thai Binh. Chery was expected to become the first Chinese company to produce EVs in Vietnam, taking the lead from automakers such as BYD which had yet to confirm local production plans.

FCA Serbia EV

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Serbia has produced its first electric cars at the factory in Kragujevac which are undergoing testing, local media reported. The first tests had been carried out at the Kragujevac factory’s testing track, said. However, main safety tests, such as crash tests, are conducted abroad, the president of the automaker’s labour union, Sasa Djordjevic, told state broadcaster RTS.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, Just Auto