Surprise: Americans bought more new vehicles in 2018 than in 2017, according to preliminary sales totals. We bought about 17.3 million new trucks, sport/utilities and cars last year, compared with about 17.23 million the year before, according to Cox Automotive analyst Charlie Chesbrough.
That makes four straight years of auto sales over 17.0 million units, and last year ended stronger than most analysts were predicting even a few months ago. The automakers and their brands that pushed this slight growth in ’18 pretty much fall in step with the wholesale shift away from passenger cars, with Jeep and Ram, for example, pushing Fiat Chrysler to a 9 percent increase, even as the top three automakers ahead of it posted slight year-over-year declines.
General Motors’ sales chart explains why the automaker plans to drop several car lines this year, while its Chevrolet Equinox compact sport/utility has become a major player in that hot vehicle segment.
Then there’s Ford Motor Company, which has been in hot water with Wall Street investors all last year over its future profit prospects. Yes, the Ford F-Series remains the most popular model in all the land, but when the company invested so much in the revolutionary aluminum-bodied pickup a few years ago, it let important SUV models languish. In 2018, all of the Ford marque’s mainstream SUVs except the all-new Expedition and the new-to-the-market EcoSport were down.
Ford will introduce an all-new Explorer at the North American International Auto Show this month in Detroit, but it needs a new Escape, for example, as soon as possible. The promised full refresh of the Ford and Lincoln showrooms can’t come quickly enough.
Other trends emerging from 2018’s U.S. auto sales results:
—The second, third and fourth bestselling automakers are bunching up, with just 70,646 cars and trucks–make that trucks and cars–separating number-three Toyota Motor Sales from number-two Ford Motor Company, and 191,468 vehicles separating number-four Fiat Chrysler from Toyota. Wonder how many Jeep Gladiators Fiat Chrysler can sell this year.
—To that point, the U.S. auto industry is shaping up as many of us predicted after the smoke cleared from the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies of nearly a decade ago, with the four largest automakers each maintaining market share in the mid teens, similar to the European market. GM is holding onto a 17.0-17.1 percent market share, with Ford at roughly 14.5 percent, Toyota about 14.0 percent and Fiat Chrysler grabbing about 12.9 percent. Numbers five and six American Honda and Nissan North America are just under 10 percent each.
—Hyundai sales were up slightly, but that automaker’s holdback shipping some Genesis models put it in the minus category for 2018. Meanwhile, Subaru, which jumped past Kia for eighth place in 2017 added the three-row Ascent SUV and outsold Hyundai/Genesis by 2,189 units, for seventh place in ’18. Watch for whether Hyundai’s aggressive new SUV strategy is enough to take the position back in ’19.
—The new Ford Ranger on sale this month is arriving just in time. Midsize pickup sales rose by 18.2 percent, or 76,052 units, in 2018, led by a 24 percent increase in Toyota Tacoma sales and a 19.3 percent rise for the Chevy Colorado. If the ’19 Ranger and the Jeep Gladiator add to the segment without draining sales from the direct competition, it could signal that full-size pickups have peaked.
—Audi reported its first annual slip in U.S. sales in what seems like forever. The automaker blames inventory issues for the drop, but certainly the luxury brand market, which is softening much more quickly than commodity names as some premium buyers shift to fancy pickup trucks, is becoming an obstacle to Audi’s future growth. Even as Audi builds up its SUV portfolio, its long, steady growth isn’t about to last forever, especially as very low-volume marques like Volvo and Land Rover gain share.
And so, to the numbers …
1. General Motors: 2,954,037, off 1.6 percent.
- Chevrolet Silverado was off 283 units, to 585,581. Most of these were the old, “Classic” model. GMC Sierra was up 0.7 percent to 219,544, for a combined 805,125.
- Chevy Equinox was GM’s second-bestselling model, up 14.5 percent to 332,618.
- Chevrolet Colorado, up 19.3 percent to 134,832, and GMC Canyon, up 4.3 percent, to 33,492, combined for a healthy 168,324.
- Chevrolet sales totaled 2,036,023, off 1.4 percent. Buick was off 5.6 percent, to 206,863, led by Encore, up 5.7 percent to 93,073.
- GMC was off 0.8 percent, to 556,449.
- Cadillac was off 1.1 percent, to 154,702, led by XT5, off 11.3 percent, to 60,565, with the new XT4 making up 7,785 of that.
2. Ford Motor Company: 2,497,318, off 3.5 percent.
- F-Series was up 1.4 percent, to 909,330 and Transit was up 8.2 percent, to 137,794.
- Utilities all slid, however, except for the new Expedition, up 5.4 percent, to 54,661, and Lincoln Navigator, up 69.5 percent to 17,839.
- Ford’s second-bestselling model again was the Escape, off 11.7 percent to 272,228. Ford sold 54,348 EcoSports.
- Ford brand sold 2,393,731 vehicles, off 3.3 percent. Lincoln sold 103,587, off 6.8 percent.
3. Toyota Motor Sales: 2,426,672, off 0.3 percent.
- Toyota division sold 2,128,362, off by 1,023 units (0 percent). Lexus sold 298,310, off 2.2 percent.
- RAV4 was Toyota’s bestseller, up 4.8 percent to 427,170, of which 3,781 were the new, ’19 model sold in December. Camry was next, at 343,439, off 11.3 percent, and Corolla was off 7.7 percent, to 303,732.
- Prius was off 19.4 percent, to 87,590. Tacoma was up 24 percent, to 245,659.
- RX led Lexus, up 3.1 percent, to 111,541. The three-row RXL version accounts for about 22 percent of those.
4. Fiat Chrysler: 2,235,204, up 9 percent.
- All you need to know is Jeep, Jeep, Jeep and Ram. Jeep division was up 17 percent for the year, to 973,227, with Wrangler up 26 percent to 240,032, Cherokee up 41 percent to 239,437 and Grand Cherokee off 7 percent to 224,908. Ram division was up 7 percent to 597,368, with the Ram accounting for 536,980 of that, up 7 percent.
- Dodge was up 3 percent, to 459,324. Chrysler was off 12 percent to 165,964. Fiat freefell by 41 percent to 15,521. Alfa Romeo surpassed its less-expensive Italian sibling, up 98 percent to 23,820.
- Dodge Caravan – that’s the old minivan design – was Fiat Chrysler’s bestselling non-Jeep/Ram, at 151,927, up 21 percent. The Chrysler Pacifica was the only other non-Jeep/Ram in the six-digits, at 118,322, up 48 units (0 percent).
- Alfa sold 12,043 Stelvios, up 343 percent, and 11,519 Giulias, up 29 percent.
5. American Honda: 1,604,828, off 2.2 percent.
- Honda division was off 2.8 percent, to 1,445,894, while Acura was up 2.8 percent, to 158,934.
- As with Toyota, it’s all about compact and midsize sedans vs. compact SUV. The CR-V SUV led Honda, up by 118 units (0.3 percent) to 379,013. Civic was off 13.7 percent to 325,760 and Accord was off 9.8 percent to 291,071.
- RDX accounted for most of Acura’s gain, up 23.9 percent to 63,580 sold.
6. Nissan Group: 1,493,877, off 6.2 percent.
- Nissan division was off 6.6 percent, to 1,344,597 and Infiniti was off 2.7 percent, to 149,280.
- Rogue sales rose 2.1 percent, to 412,110. Sentra was off 2.5 percent, to 213,046 and Altima was down 18 percent, to 209,146.
- QX60 was Infiniti’s bestseller, accounting for nearly a third of division sales, at 47,370, up 17.1 percent.
7. Subaru: 680,135, up 5 percent.
- Subie’s two bestsellers both were down, with Outback off 5.3 percent, to 178,854 and Forester off 3.4 percent, to 171,613, but Crosstrek, up 31.1 percent, to 144,384, and the new Ascent, at 36,211, more than made up for that.
8. Hyundai: 677,946, off 1 percent.
- Hyundai brand was up 0.4 percent, to 667,634 and Genesis was off 50 percent, to 10,312.
- Elantra was Hyundai’s bestseller, up 1.1 percent to 200,415, and G80 was Genesis’ bestseller, off 52.7 percent, to 7,663.
9. Kia: 589,673, up 5 units.
- Sorento was Kia’s bestseller, up 8.2 percent, to 107,846, but Forte, Optima and Soul all were bunched up behind it with more than 100,000 sales each.
10. Volkswagen: 354,064, up 4.2 percent.
- Last year, VW finished 228,510 units behind its all-time record sales year in the U.S., 1970.
- Jetta was bestseller, though off 22 percent, to 115,807.
- Tiguan was next, at 89,476, up 326 percent. VW sold 59,677 Atlases, up 120 percent.
11. Mercedes-Benz USA: 355,413, off 5.3 percent.
- Mercedes-Benz was off 6.3 percent, to 315,959. Mercedes Van sales rose 9.1 percent, to 38,179, and Smart plunged 58.5 percent, to 1,276 as it transitioned to an electric-only brand.
- The GLC-Class SUV was Mercedes’ leading model, up 43.3 percent to 69,727, as the C-Class fell 22 percent, to 60,409.
12. BMW Group: 354,698, up 0.5 percent.
- BMW was up 1.7 percent, to 311,014, and Mini was off 7.3 percent, to 43,684.
- X3 was BMW’s bestseller, at 61,351, up 50.8 percent, while traditional bestseller 3 Series fell 25 percent, to 44,578.
- Countryman led Mini, up 18.2 percent, to 17,565.
13. Mazda: 300,325, up 3.4 percent.
- Mazda’s compact SUV accounts for half its sales, with the CX-5 up 18.1 percent, to 150,622. Mazda3 was off 13.8 percent, to 64,638.
14. Audi: 223,323, off 1.4 percent.
- The Q5 accounted for nearly one-third of Audi’s U.S. volume, at 69,978, up 21 percent. The A4 was off 8 percent, to 34,566.
15. Jaguar/Land Rover: 122,626, up 7 percent.
- Predictably, SUV-centric Land Rover was up 23 percent to 92,143, while Jaguar slipped 23 percent, to 30,483.
- Range Rover Sport was up 27 percent, to 24,282. F-Pace accounted for nearly half of Jaguar sales, though off 22 percent, to 14,752. Jaguar sold 393 i-Paces.
16. Mitsubishi: 118,074, up 13.9 percent.
- Outlander Sport led, at 39,153, up 18.1 percent, with Outlander at 37,652 up 6.6 percent.
17. Volvo: 98,263, up 20.6 percent.
- The new XC60, at 32,425 passed the XC90, up 2 percent to 31,609, as the marque’s bestseller last year.
18. Porsche: 57,202, up 3.2 percent.
- Macan remains the brand’s bestseller, at 23,504, up 9.7 percent.
- Sales of 911 inched up toward five digits, at 9,647, plus-7.6 percent.
1. Mercedes-Benz 315,959 -6.3%
2. BMW 311,014 +1.7%
3. Lexus 298,310 -2.2%
4. Audi 223,323 -1.4%
5. Acura 158,934 +2.8%