Trucks, SUVs can't stop 2019 sales slides

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
The automaker moved 206,083 vehicles in June, up 14% from a year ago, largely thanks to sales of Ram pickups, which had the highest monthly sales since the truck brand was severed from Dodge in 2009.

Auto sales fell the first half of 2019 in the United States. And analysts don't think the rest of the year will get any easier.

General Motors Co. on Tuesday reported that U.S. sales fell 4.2% through the first half of the year. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sales through the first six months of the year were down 2% despite its best June in more than a decade. And Toyota Motor North America sales were down 3.1% through the end of June.

GM reported sales slid 1.5% in the second quarter of 2019 as the automaker phases out sedans from its lineup. Chevrolet sedans and compact cars in some cases had double-digit sales declines,  and sales of nearly all its truck models fell, too. The GMC Canyon midsize truck did post record second-quarter sales of 18,863 units.

GM's SUVs and crossovers from Buick, Chevrolet and GMC posted mostly positive sales figures, but not enough to boost the bottom line. Average transaction prices in the second quarter hit a record $37,126.

The automaker's Buick, Cadillac and Chevrolet brands all had sales declines through the first half of the year. GMC sales were up 2.9% through June.

Fiat Chrysler moved 206,083 vehicles in June, up 2% from a year ago, due largely to Ram pickups, which had the highest monthly sales since the truck brand was severed from Dodge in 2009. However, Jeep sales slowed both for the month and the first half of the year, down 12% in June and 8% year-to-date. 

Despite that, Jeep sales accounted for nearly half of FCA's overall sales through the first six months of 2019. The automaker has sold 1.1 million vehicles so far this year; Jeep sales clocked in a 456,281 through June. Ram sales were up 28% through June, and were FCA's only brand that had increased sales in the first half of the year.

"For the first half of 2019, Ram has been on a tear since we made the strategic decision to enter the year with a three-truck strategy," Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales, said in a statement. "The new Ram 1500, Ram Classic and Heavy Duty are all generating a huge response from customers and critics alike. This is now the third month Ram pickup sales have surpassed 60,000 since December."

But the Ram brand was the only one that saw sales increase through June. Besides Jeep, sales also fell for the Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa Romeo brands as most models age and the automaker continues to phase sedans out of its lineup.

While Ram sales climbed as the automaker continues to phase in the all-new Ram models and sell the old models at the same time, all the Jeep nameplates except the Grand Cherokee and Gladiator midsize pickup posted double-digit sales slips. Sales of the Chrysler Pacifica were down 23%. 

Toyota reported the RAV4 had its best-ever June sales, and sales of the Tacoma midsize pickup were up 4.8% year-to-date. But car sales slid 7.7% through June, and SUV and truck sales were down 0.2%.

"As we close out the second quarter, our sales are heating up, led by the red-hot RAV4, Tacoma and light trucks," said Jack Hollis, general manager of Toyota division, in a statement. "New technology and improved styling has made our hybrid game better than ever, taking our sales up more than 31 percent from last June." He expected good results in the second half of 2019, with the return of the Supra sports car and the the introduction of a new Highlander midsize SUV.

It will be difficult for automakers to gain momentum through the end of the year after the first six months of 2019 that experts expect will have brought sales declines for nearly every automaker selling in the U.S.

Industry analysts had forecast sales would be down for most automakers through the first half of the year, and in all likelihood they'd continue to slide for the remaining six months of the year. 

A number of market pressures would contribute to slowing sales, analysts from several organizations said in late June ahead of the official release of mid-year sales results.

Vehicle prices have been steadily increasing. Automakers are making more money by selling more of the SUVs and trucks in the U.S. But analysts predict the appetite for the big, pricey trucks will begin to slow. 

And as used vehicles flood back to dealer lots following record sales years for the past several years, consumers might be more attracted to those low-mileage, lower-priced vehicles than the new vehicles that are becoming steadily more expensive to buy or lease.

June also marked the last month FCA would report sales figures monthly. The automaker will join rivals General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. in reporting quarterly sales starting with the third quarter. GM reports its second-quarter results Tuesday. Ford will publicly report its results Wednesday.

This story will be updated.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau