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Slumping sedan sales bring down July results

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
Ford, FCA illustration

Passenger car sales took a nosedive in July, driving down overall results for several automakers last month.

Ford Motor Co. passenger car sales plummeted nearly 28 percent, and even stalwarts of the segment like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord posted double-digit declines.  

"The massive drops in July car sales demonstrates we haven’t hit rock-bottom yet," Cox Automotive analyst Michelle Krebs said in a statement. "One driver of the continued decline is likely the plethora of used cars and, more importantly, nearly new utility vehicles coming off lease and back into the market. As affordability becomes more of an issue, used vehicles provide a value alternative to new sedans."

New-vehicle prices increased by nearly $1,000 last month, compared to July 2017, averaging $35,359, according to Kelley Blue Book data. Much of that gain is in the luxury SUV and full-size pickup markets.

"The primary forces at work in the current new-car market, including supply, demand and pricing, are pushing transaction costs to a level some buyers aren’t willing to pay," Cox Automotive analyst Karl Brauer said in a statement. "We saw high fleet sales from a number of automakers in July, but even that wasn’t enough to hit positive overall numbers in July." 

Amid the car market free-fall, Detroit automakers posted mixed results in July, with Ford down 3.1 percent and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles up 6 percent.  General Motors Co. did not release monthly sales numbers for July, continuing a new practice of reporting quarterly sales.

FCA's gains were driven by another strong month for the Jeep brand, up 15 percent compared to July 2017. Jeep sales are up 21 percent for the year. Former Jeep boss Mike Manley was appointed FCA's new CEO last week after legendary leader Sergio Marchionne fell ill and later died.

The Ram truck brand was up slightly, posting a 2 percent gain last month, while Dodge remained flat. FCA's Chrysler brand continues to struggle, down 13 percent. Only the Pacifica minivan posted a gain for Chrysler, up 6 percent. All four Fiat models had sales declines in July, bringing the brand down 45 percent.

Ford's SUV sales fell 1.5 percent while car sales plummeted 27.7 percent. The bright spot for the Blue Oval was its valuable truck lineup, which posted a 10.2 percent gain, according to the automaker. Both the Ford and Lincoln brands saw sales decrease last month, down 2.7 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

The crucial F-Series trucks posted a 2.1 percent gain in July, while sales of the Transit soared 190 percent.

Among foreign automakers, Toyota saw overall sales slip 6 percent in July as its car sales fell 18 percent; Nissan fell 15 percent as car sales plummeted 20.3 percent compared to the same month last year; and Honda sales declined 8.2 percent with car sales down 19 percent.

Sales of Toyota's Camry and Corolla sedans fell 22.2 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively, while the Lexus ES and GS were both down about 30 percent. Toyota trucks eked out a 2.2 percent gain on a good month for Toyota's Tacoma, up 25.7 percent and the Lexus GX, up 14.4 percent.

Nissan's Maxima, Altima and Versa posted some of the most significant losses for Nissan's car division, with the Maxima down a whopping 53.3 percent. Nissan's Infiniti brand fell 10.1 percent as its Q70 sedan lost significant ground.

Honda's flagship sedans, the Accord and Civic, fell 19.3 and 28.3 percent, respectively. The CR-V crossover was up 3.4 percent in July.

"The Civic has been a shining star in an environment where cars are hurting immensely, but July appeared to buck that trend," Akshay Anand, executive analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said in a statement. "With the disparity in SUV and car sales for all brands, it's fair to wonder if the CR-V is the new poster child for Honda and all it has to offer."