Ford sales up in third quarter but down in September on supply issues

Fiat Chrysler, Ford sales bright spots in mixed Jan.

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
Ram sales pulled Fiat Chrysler to a 2 percent sales increase in January, in a month hurt by bad weather and the partial government shutdown.

January vehicle sales at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford Motor Co. sales were two bright spots in an otherwise mixed sales month for carmakers in the U.S.

Fiat Chrysler said its sales were up 2 percent compared to the same time a year ago. Sales in January rose about 7 percent for Ford Motor Co. and slipped about 7 percent for General Motors Co. according to Bloomberg News, which cited people who asked not to be identified because those two companies no longer make their reports public on a monthly basis. 

The annualized industry sales rate slowed to 16.7 million last month, according to researcher Autodata Corp., trailing analysts’ projection for 16.9 million. The pace of car and light truck deliveries was 17.1 million in January 2018.

Industry analysts had expected automakers would see a slight overall increase in sales compared to last year despite the partial government shutdown, bad weather and declining consumer confidence. But Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist with Cox Automotive, said cold January weather and the government shutdown seem to have hurt sales more than he and others anticipated.

"Sales appear to be coming in below expectations for a number of large manufacturers," Chesbrough said. "Car share continues to decline sharply, although the drop has slowed for some OEMs, so we may be approaching the bottom."

Toyota Motor North America reported its U.S. sales fell 6.6 percent in January, with sedans, SUVs and pickups all down. Infiniti USA reported its sales fell 3 percent in January. American Honda sales went up 1.5 percent compared to a year ago due to strong Acura sales.

Hyundai Motor America reported its sales increased 3 percent on strong SUV sales. Hyundai SUVs made up 51 percent of total U.S. sales volume for Hyundai, an all-time record. Nissan Group sales were off 19 percent last month, another larger-than-expected decline. 

Fiat Chrysler's Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat and Alfa Romeo brands all slid in January.

But the company's Ram brand continued propelling Fiat Chrysler's sales increases. Ram saw a 24 percent increase last month. Pickup sales within the Ram brand were up 19 percent, with 34,889 vehicles sold.

Fiat Chrysler said the strength of the U.S. economy could keep sales afloat in 2019.

"We expect a good cadence of new product throughout the year led by our Ram heavy-duty pickup trucks and Jeep Gladiator mid-side truck in the first half of this year," said Reid Bigland, Fiat Chrysler's head of U.S. sales.

The automaker did see Jeep sales slip for the first time in many months. Sales of Jeep were down 2 percent to 58,401 vehicles, though the Wrangler set a new record of 13,204 vehicles, up 11 percent compared to last year.

Part of the reason most companies saw flat or lower sales in January could be rising vehicle prices, according to analysis from Edmunds, a California-based industry analysis company.

"Car shoppers who are returning to the market for the first time in a few years could be in for a big shock," said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of industry analysis. "Vehicle prices and interest rates are so high right now that consumers are facing the very real possibility of spending thousands of dollars more on a new vehicle than they did last time they purchased a new car."

Bloomberg News contributed.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau