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US: Best January since 2001 for light vehicle sales

By Bill Cawthon | 4 February 2015

The Detroit Three all posted double digit sales rises in January, boosting their market share

The Detroit Three all posted double digit sales rises in January, boosting their market share

Late month winter storms couldn’t stop US light vehicles sales. Automakers enjoyed the highest January sales volume since 2001, delivering more than 1.15m new cars and light trucks.

January 2015's seasonally adjusted annualised sales rate (SAAR) of 16.7m beat analysts' expectations and set the industry's fastest starting pace to a year in nine years.

Almost every manufacturer reported increased sales. The sole exception was Maserati, 2014's big winner, proving there really are acts that are too tough to follow.

The Detroit Three posted double digit gains, led by General Motors' 18.3% jump. Ford reversed a downward trend and reported a healthy 15.6% improvement while FCA US, which typically outperformed its crosstown rivals in 2014, posted the smallest gain at 14.0%. In fairness, the automaker did deliver its 58th consecutive month of sales gains.

All those gains meant an increased slice of the market. Thanks to their arsenals of pickups, crossovers and SUVs, FCA US, Ford and GM took a combined 45.6% bite of the pie, one percentage point more than last January.

The Japanese carmakers added to their market share with January sales records at Honda and Subaru. Toyota got a boost from Lexus which leapfrogged over BMW to take second place in the luxury segment. The Nissan brand set its own January record driven by record sales of the Altima saloon.

Mitsubishi sales continued to grow posting the largest year on year improvement by any automaker last month.

Hyundai and Kia both set January sales records but it wasn't enough to preserve their market share.

Audi set its 49th consecutive sales record in January but lost a three way race for fourth place among the premium brands. Just 441 sales separated Acura, Cadillac and Audi. Volkswagen sales were up slightly thanks to the new (to the US) Golf. Porsche finished the month 27.2% ahead of last January.

Sales of upscale vehicles rose 11.6% in January, lagging behind the industry’s pace. Mercedes-Benz started 2015 at the top of the pack but Lexus wasn’t far behind.

Jaguar sales came up short by 6% but Land Rover’s 13% gain carried the day for Tata Motors' Jaguar Land Rover North America.

Low petrol prices continue to fuel light truck sales. Crossovers, minivans, SUVs and pickups accounted for 53.8% of total US market sales in January, an increase of 2.5% compared to last year.

Deliveries of mid-size, luxury and large SUVs soared. The 74.3% increase in sales of large SUVs was the highest of any market segment.

The next most active segments were compact LCVs, like the Ford Transit Connect and Nissan NV200, plus compact pickups. Sales of small commercial vans jumped 118.7% last month and the Ram ProMaster City (a variant of Europe's Fiat Doblo) has now entered the field.

GM’s new small(er) pickups, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, helped the compact pickup segment grow 71.9% without cannibalising sales of the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, both of which reported double digit gains.

The Ford Transit was top dog in the full size van pack, nearly doubling the sales of the more traditional Chevrolet Express. Full size vans sales outpaced the market, rising 18.5%.

Full size pickup sales rose 16.8% in January as the Ford F-series, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram pickup took the took three spots in the sales rankings.

Pickups are often seen as a bellwether for the economy because so many are purchased by businesses and tradesmen but the explosion in sales of small vans, which are almost exclusively used by commercial operators, would seem to be an even better indicator of confidence in at least the near term outlook

January’s results were sufficiently encouraging that some market watchers are already raising their guidance for 2015 to somewhere between 16.7m and 17.0m sales. Considering the industry started with the best numbers since the last time sales hit 17m, they may be right.

Manufacturer Current Month - 1/15/2015 Current Month - 1/14/2015 Volume Change Daily Sales Rate Change Market Share - 1/15/2015 Market Share - 1/14/2015 Calendar Year-To-Date 2015 Calendar Year-To-Date 2014 Volume Change
FCA US LLC 145007 127183 14% 9.6% 12.6% 12.5% 145007 127183 14%
Ford Motor Co. 177441 153494 15.6% 11.2% 15.4% 15.1% 177441 153494 15.6%
General Motors Co. 202786 171486 18.3% 13.7% 17.6% 16.9% 202786 171486 18.3%
Detroit Total 525234 452163 16.2% 11.7% 45.6% 44.6% 525234 452163 16.2%
American Honda* 102184 91631 11.5% 7.2% 8.9% 9% 102184 91631 11.5%
Mazda North America 20271 18814 7.7% 3.6% 1.8% 1.9% 20271 18814 7.7%
Mitsubishi 6493 4867 33.4% 28.3% 0.6% 0.5% 6493 4867 33.4%
Nissan North America 104107 90470 15.1% 10.6% 9% 8.9% 104107 90470 15.1%
Subaru* 40812 33000 23.7% 18.9% 3.5% 3.3% 40812 33000 23.7%
Toyota Motor Sales 169194 146365 15.6% 11.2% 14.7% 14.4% 169194 146365 15.6%
Japan Total 443061 385147 15% 10.6% 38.4% 38% 443061 385147 15%
Hyundai* 44505 44005 1.1% -2.8% 3.9% 4.3% 44505 44005 1.1%
Kia* 38299 37011 3.5% -0.5% 3.3% 3.7% 38299 37011 3.5%
Korea Total 82804 81016 2.2% -1.7% 7.2% 8% 82804 81016 2.2%
BMW North America 22286 20871 6.8% 2.7% 1.9% 2.1% 22286 20871 6.8%
Daimler AG* 26616 24413 9% 4.8% 2.3% 2.4% 26616 24413 9%
Jaguar Land Rover 6547 6021 8.7% 4.6% 0.6% 0.6% 6547 6021 8.7%
Maserati North America 452 568 -20.4% -23.5% 0% 0.1% 452 568 -20.4%
Volkswagen Group** 39141 36944 5.9% 1.9% 3.4% 3.6% 39141 36944 5.9%
Volvo Cars North America 3794 3792 0.1% -3.8% 0.3% 0.4% 3794 3792 0.1%
Other (est.) 2545 2491 2.2% -1.8% 0.2% 0.2% 2545 2491 2.2%
Europe Total 101381 95100 6.6% 2.5% 8.8% 9.4% 101381 95100 6.6%
Total Light Vehicles 1152480 1013426 13.7% 9.3% 100% 100% 1152480 1013426 13.7%