Chrysler mini-vans sit on the lot at Suburban Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Troy, Michigan on January 29. Chrysler sold 127,183 vehicles last month, the 46th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains for the Auburn Hills automaker. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)
Sales of new cars and trucks fell 3.1 percent year-over-year in January as frigid temperatures kept customers home in much of the country.
Automakers sold 1,012,582 vehicles in the United States last month, down from 1,044,655 in January 2013. And with the continuing cold, some companies warned February may not be much better.
“It’s clear that weather was a big factor,” said analyst Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book. “When you look at the specific vehicles that did well, it supports that. If you’re slipping around in the Midwest in January, you might just decide, ‘You know, I’m going to go buy a Jeep.’”
Jeep sales were up 38.2 percent. In fact, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles — Jeep’s parent company — was one of the few winners last month. Sales were up 8 percent on volume of 127,183 vehicles and its share of the market leaped to 12.6 percent from 11.3 percent a year ago.
“The bad weather only seemed to affect our competitors’ stores,” said Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s head of U.S. sales, in a statement Monday. “(We) achieved our 46th-consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases.”
All of the company’s brands were up, except for Dodge.
Both General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. had sales slumps in January.
GM’s sales fell 11.9 percent to 171,486. GM also gave up more than a point of market share, dropping to 16.9 percent from 18.6 percent a year ago. Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick were all down for the month.
“The good news is that there’s a lot of 2014 left to go,” said GM spokesman Jim Cain. “All the fundamentals are there to drive industry sales to the 16 million to 16.5 million range for light vehicles.”
Ford sales were down 7.5 percent to 153,494. Ford’s share of the market slipped to 15.2 percent from 15.9 percent in January 2013.
While the Ford brand was down, Lincoln sales soared by 42.5 percent. “Most of Lincoln’s customers live in the Sun Belt,” Brauer noted.
Ford remains confident that sales will rebound. “We’re not weather forecasters, but it’s safe to say that because of the strength we saw in January when we had good weather, that it will eventually get made up,” said Erich Merkle, Ford’s U.S. sales analyst.
Detroit manufacturers were not the only ones suffering. Toyota Motor Corp.’s sales slid 7.2 percent in January to 146,365 vehicles. Its market share dipped from 15.1 percent to 14.5 percent.
“January was off to a solid start, but the weather condition slowed industry sales in key markets late in the month,” said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager.
Honda Motor Co.’s sales were down 2.1 percent. Volkswagen AG’s sales fell 13.9 percent.
Nissan Motor Co. reported an 11.8 percent sales increase. Hyundai Motor Co.’s sales edged up 0.7 percent. But Subaru demonstrated the beauty of all-wheel drive by posting a 19.3 percent gain.
The full-size pickup segment, which had been the driving force behind auto sales for most of 2013, were down 2.9 percent in January. Automakers sold 120,428 full-size trucks last month compared to 124,004 during the same period last year.
Analysts said weather was a factor in the pickup segment, but so were lower incentives and higher transaction prices.
Some economists are concerned that higher heating costs could cut consumer spending.
“That certainly can be a factor,” said Emily Kolinski Morris, Ford’s senior U.S. economist. “(But) durable goods are a big purchase decision, and a one-time monthly heating bill is probably not going to change your decision to purchase a vehicle. If it’s a persistent trend, such as when we go into periods of high gas prices for an extended period of time, that’s when we look at the calculation a little bit differently.”
Analysts cautioned against reading too much into January’s numbers. “It’s really bad to use January as a long-term indicator of anything in the market,” Brauer said “I’m not too worried about it.”