Motor City Blogman

2018 U.S. Auto Sales Snapshot: SUVs Up; Cars Down

More of the same, or are we headed for a big slowdown?

Sales of General Motors cars and trucks dropped 13 percent in August, compared with August 2017, according to reporting by Bloomberg, while Ford Motor Company was up 4.1 percent. Wall Street responded, with GM’s common shares off 1.22 percent, to $35.61 at the New York Stock Exchange’s close Tuesday, and Ford off 0.16 percent, to $9.47.

Why did Ford stock slip, even as its August sales exceeded analysts’ expectations? Ford has struggled in recent months to get back up into the double-digits, as its latest outsider CEO, Jim Hackett, tries to cut product development costs and yet thrust the automaker into the ‘20s. Saving for its big moneymaker, the F-Series and the iconic, but low-volume Mustang, Ford has struggled with quickly aging cars and trucks since Alan Mulally retired.

Now it has cancelled plans to import from China the Ford Focus Active, over Trump administration tariffs. This is not an extension of Ford’s strategy to rid its showrooms of anything under 63 inches tall save for the Mustang. The tall, cladded wagonback Focus Active was designed to attack the popular Subaru Crosstrek (itself under tariff threat, as it’s imported from Japan). Subaru sold 11,900 Crosstreks last month, and though that was down 7.2 percent, it still outsold the Ford Fusion.

Meanwhile GM, which now reports only quarterly sales results, “pulled back in incentives, especially for the full-size pickups,” Bloomberg reports, citing “people familiar with the matter.”

Automakers citing JD Power’s Power Information Network numbers say that GM’s average $4,146 in sales incentives equaled 11.6 percent of its average transaction price (of all models), compared with $5,097, or 14.3 percent at Ford and $4,731, or 13.9 percent at Fiat Chrysler. GM reportedly has done a good job of selling down inventories of Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra crew cab models, so that the new, 2019 models of these pickups sell for much closer to sticker price.

Ford says that while total U.S. sales rose 4.1 percent in August, retail is up just 1.1 percent and fleet (which includes lucrative truck sales) was up 15 percent. Trucks were up 5.7 percent, SUVs (which generally are more profitable than cars in the same size category) were up 20.1 percent, and cars were down 21.3 percent.

Good news at Ford is that Mustang sales rose 35.3 percent last month, to 7,487, though the company does not break down how many of those were sold to daily rental fleets. The Ford F-Series was up 6.3 percent, to 81,839.

Fiat Chrysler was all about SUVs and trucks, too, with Jeep up 20 percent, to 87,502 and Ram up 27 percent, to 54,808. Chrysler was off 3 percent, to 12,219, Dodge fell 18 percent, to 35,575 and Fiat dropped 35 percent, to 1,374. Overall, Fiat Chrysler was up 10 percent, to 193,718.

Alfa Romeo sales rose 96 percent, with Stelvio, up 526 percent to 1,271, easily outselling Giulia, up 4 percent, to 957.

But August 2018 marks the first time, as far as I can remember, that three Jeep models each topped 20,000 units—Wrangler was up 20 percent, to 20,168, Cherokee was up 85 percent, to 21,978, and Grand Cherokee was off 15 percent, to 20,072. Those three models alone could make up the eighth largest automaker in the U.S., by volume, just ahead of Hyundai.

In other new vehicle sales news, Toyota Motor remains the third-bestselling automaker in the U.S., behind Ford and ahead of Fiat Chrysler, at 223,055, off 2 percent. RAV4 sales were down 2.4 percent, to 42,222, though it remains the automaker’s bestseller. Camry sales dropped 18.6 percent, to 30,141. Highlander was up 23.6 percent, to 23,300 and 4Runner was up 24.2 percent, to 12,862.

American Honda, including Acura, was next, up 1.3 percent, to 147,903. Civic sales slid 24.1 percent, to 27,677 and Accord dropped by 11 percent, to 26,725, while CR-V jumped by 11.8 percent, to 34,610, Pilot surged 60.2 percent, to 15,332 and even Ridgeline edged up 7 percent, to 2,782.

Nissan Group, including Infiniti, was up 3.7 percent, to 112,376. The bestselling Rogue SUV was up 11.9 percent, to 33,400, just 2,380 units short of the entire Nissan division car lineup, while Altima edged up 1.6 percent, to 14,925.

Subaru sales topped Hyundai (including Genesis). Subaru was up 1.4 percent for the month, to 64,088, versus 57,542 for Hyundai Group, up 6 percent. Year-to-date, Subaru totals 446,374, versus Hyundai’s 444,342.

Credit for the Subie leap goes to its new Ascent three-row SUV, of which 4,235 were sold last month. Forester, Outback, and Crosstrek were all down. Subaru Ascent sales topped Volkswagen Atlas sales of 4,054 units, even though the VW three-row has been on-sale for more than a year (it was up 44.4 percent).

In August, the Mazda CX-5’s sales of 12,970, accounting for more than half that marque’s sales, topped the VW Atlas and the new and old Tiguans, and, oh hell, throw in the lame-duck Touareg, by 239 units.

VW is in better shape in the U.S. since the depths of Dieselgate some three years ago, but the marque is still falling short of its rivals in taking advantage of consumers’ interest in sport/utilities. It has sold 235,673 cars and SUVs this year, and though up 7 percent, it’s still not on track to top its all-time record of 569,696 sold in calendar year 1970.

I’ll detail auto sales among all the major marques when third-quarter results are reported October 1.

Ford Focus Active Photos by Jim Dunne.

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