WOLF STREET–On August 24, as hurricane Harvey was barreling into one of the largest urban areas in the US, Kelley Blue Book forecast unperturbed that new-vehicle sales would rise 1.5% year-over-year in the US to a total of 1.53 million units, based largely on the fact that August had one more selling day than a year ago.
“August should be the first year-over-year increase of 2017,” it said bravely.
It wasn’t rose-colored optimism though. The Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR), which accounts for that extra selling day, would fall 3% year-over-year to 16.6 million units, it said.
But it was the eighth month in a row that forecasters were woefully unprepared for reality – though there was finally some good news from GM.
What we got…
- Total new-vehicle sales declined 1.9% year-over-year to 1.483 million light vehicles, according to Autodata. This is the number of vehicles sold and delivered by dealers to their customers, or delivered by automakers directly to large fleet customers.
- Despite that extra selling day, it was the eighth month in a row of year-over-year declines.
- Year-to-date, total new-vehicle sales are down 2.7%.
- Car sales dropped 8.5% to 549,749 vehicles. They’re down 11.3% year-to-date.
- Truck sales – which include pickups, SUVs, compact SUVs, and vans – had been booming as Americans are shifting from cars to trucks, particularly to compact SUVs (“crossovers”). Trucks accounted for 63% of total retail sales. But that boom too has slowed down this year. In August truck sales inched up 2.4% — not even enough to account for that extra selling day — to 933,581.
- SAAR, which takes that extra selling day into account, dropped 6.4% year-over-year to 16.1 million.
General Motors digs out of its hole.
GM’s car sales still plunged in August, but truck sales roared back to life, thanks to a slew of new SUV and compact SUV models that started taking off. Total sales jumped 7.4% year-over-year to 275,326. Year-to-date, total sales are still down 2.4%.
- Trucks sales soared 16.5% year-over-year to 206,698 units, and are up 4.7% year-do-date.
- Car sales, which had been in collapse mode (down 19.3% year-to-date) dropped 13.2% in August, to 68,628 vehicles.
- By brand: Chevrolet +11.4% (96,007 units); GMC +12% (47,718 units); but Buick, which is almost dead in the US -23% (6,811 units); and Cadillac -8% (15,016 units).
- Inventory on dealer lots dropped to 88 days’ supply, from 104 days at the end of July. That’s still well above 60 days’ supply that is considered the upper limit of healthy, but it’s a huge move in the right direction.
Ford got hit by plunging SUV sales.
Total sales fell 2.1% to 209,029 vehicles and are down 4.0% year to date. By brand: Ford -2.2% (201,189 units) and Lincoln -5.8% (8,708 units).
- Car sales dropped 8.6% to 47,652 vehicles and are down 18.9% this year.
- Truck sales edged up 0.1% to 161,377 units and are up 1.9% for the year. F-series are doing well, up 9% to 96,619 units. But the hot segment of SUVs is cratering, which should be a nerve-wrecking experience for Ford. SUV sales fell 11% to 65,626 units!
- Ford ended the month with 67 days’ supply on dealer lots, up from 66 days in July.
Fiat-Chrysler loses it.
FCA US total sales dropped 10.6% to 176,033 and are down 7.7% for the year so far – going from bad to worse.
- Car sales plunged 15.9% to 23,723 and are down 22.4% year-to-date. At this pace, FCA will soon give up on selling cars. None of its cars are made in the US anymore. And not even the Chinese automakers are interested in acquiring the car lines. All they want, if anything, is Jeep. Of FCA’s total sales in the US, cars account for only 13.4%.
- But even truck sales plunged 9.7% to 152,310 and are down 4.9% for the year.
3 winners, 5 losers among other major automakers.
Toyota total sales rose 6.8% to 227,625 units, but remained down 1.3% for the year. It was once again the second largest auto seller in the US overall, behind GM and ahead of Ford.
- Car sales dropped 7.2% to 92,912. But that’s nearly twice as many cars as Ford sold and 35% more than GM sold.
- Truck sales soared 19.2% to 134,713 and are a up 9.3% for the year. At this pace, they may soon catch up with Ford truck sales.
Honda total sales declined 2.4% for the month to 146,015 and are down -0.5% for the year.
- Car sales rose 2.6% to 75,354 but are down 4.3% for the year. Honda is the second largest car seller in the US, behind only Toyota.
- Truck sales dropped 7.2% for the month to 70,661 but are up 3.5% for the year.
Nissan total sales plunged 13.1% for the month to 108,326, but are still up 0.1% for the year.
- Car sales collapsed 18.8% to 46,900 and are down 12.3% year-to-date.
- Truck sales dropped 8.1% to 61,462 but are up 14.7% year-to-date. This is a dizzying turn from July, when truck sales had been up 18.3%.
Subaru total sales rose 4.6% to 63,215, up 8.1% year-to-date. Car sales rose 9.0% to 34,864 and truck sales edged down to 28,351. Note that Subaru car sales are up 11% for the year: not every automaker suffers from plunging car sales!
Hyundai Motor Group, oh dearie! The conglomerate includes Hyundai and Kia. Kia was barely hanging on, with a sales decline of less than industry average. But Hyundai sales are still in collapse mode.
- Hyundai total sales plummeted 24.6% to 54,310, by far the steepest crash of the major automakers. Year-to-date, sales are down 12.7%. Car sales collapsed 32.8% to just 33,079. Truck sales fell 6.8% to 21,231 units.
- Kia total sales edged down 1.7% to 53,323 units, and are down 8.4% so far this year. Car sales rose 9.2% to 36,762, but truck sales plunged 19.5% to 16,561 and are down 18.9% year-to-date, in truck-focused America.
Volkswagen Group sales rose 6.1% to 52,112. This includes Audi, Volkswagen, Bentley, and Lamborghini. Year-to-date, sales are up 6%.
Daimler sales dropped 8.5% to 29,183 and are down 3.1% year-to-date.
BMW sales dropped 8.0% to 28,115 and were down 5.7% year-to-date. This includes BMW, Mini, and Rolls Royce. Rolls sales were up 73% to 114 cars. BMW was down 7.7% and Mini plunged 10.5%.
Here’s a curious tidbit about prices.
According to KBB’s estimates, incentives by automakers averaged over 10% of transaction prices and, as it said, “are helping support retail growth” – though the word “growth” may be the wrong term. But they do keep retail sales from falling faster.
Despite those huge incentives, the estimated average transaction price for light vehicles in August, at $34,648, was up $243 or 0.7% from a year ago!This is the result of two factors: buyers shifting from cheaper cars to more expensive SUVs, and automakers slapping higher sticker prices on their vehicles.
And the impact of Hurricane Harvey on auto sales?
New-vehicle sales in the affected areas dropped essentially to zero for the last week in August. Given the size of the area, Harvey had a noticeable impact on national auto sales. But the fact that some automakers – particularly GM, Toyota, and Subaru – kicked butt while others got crushed shows that the overall sales decline wasn’t just Harvey’s fault, though it contributed to it.
For the first two weeks in September, sales in the area will remain at essentially zero before recovery begins. Eventually, the devastation will create hot demand for trucks and SUVs, and this will pose its own challenges. Here are my thoughts on how this might turn out. Read… What will Harvey do to “Carmageddon?”