April auto sales slip from record highs
Prospects are dimming for another year of record auto sales. For the fourth straight month, U.S. car and truck sales fell more than expected in April, further evidence the lucrative American market is plateauing after two record years.
Sales slid last month for the Detroit Three automakers — and much of the industry — as consumers’ love affair with SUVs failed to offset the continuing nosedive in car sales. Overall sales fell 4.7 percent to nearly 1.43 million vehicles, according to Autodata Corp., including an 11.1 percent decline in car sales from April 2016.
Investors were not pleased. Shares of Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV fell Tuesday, with each closing down between 3 and 5 percent as signs grow that the longest uninterrupted auto sales boom since the 1960s is coming to an end after eight years.
“I think we need to take a breath … and put this in perspective: still around that 17 million (annual sales) mark, that’s a very high level,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst with Autotrader. “Since 1980, we’ve only had four years that we’ve been over the 17-million mark,” including last year’s all-time record of 17.55 million vehicles sold.
Automakers saw stronger SUV sales compared to a year ago, continuing a trend as consumers shun passenger cars for small utes and crossovers. Light truck sales, which include SUV sales, represented nearly 61 percent of the industry last month, down 0.1 percent from a year ago.
Toyota’s best-selling Camry sedan was usurped last month by its crossover cousin, the Rav4. As Camry sales fell 7.7 percent to 31,428, Rav4 totaled sales of 31,757, up 5.3 percent. Truck sales were mixed: Ford and GM posted declines while Fiat Chrysler’s Ram pickups sales rose 7.6 percent from a year ago.
Even as industry sales slow, Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst of automotive insights for Kelley Blue Book, said they remain at historically high and strong levels.
“(There’s) still positive sentiment in terms of consumer confidence, (the) stock market’s still doing extraordinary well, the unemployment rate remains below 5 percent, fuel prices are still very affordable,” he said in a call Tuesday.
Fiat Chrysler said April sales fell 6.8 percent to 176,176 vehicles, excluding Maserati. GM said sales totaled 244,200 last month, down 5.9 percent from the same month a year ago. The Detroit automaker attributed the decline partly to this April having one fewer selling day than last April.
Ford sales fell 7.1 percent. The Blue Oval sold 213,436 vehicles in April, with SUV sales seeing the only increase for any of Ford’s segments. Ford car sales dropped 23.7 percent, continuing an industry-wide trend of rapidly declining car sales for the year.
Despite a dip in overall truck sales in April, Ford sold 70,657 F-Series trucks. That’s more than the combined number of Focuses and Fiestas it has sold in the first quarter of 2017, as well as the 67,483 Fusions sold in that same four-month period.
“We have to let the year play out,” Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in a call with investors. “In a plateauing industry, you’re going to have some months that are up and some that are down ... I’m not discouraged by (April).”
GM’s Chevrolet brand sales fell 10.4 percent, and GMC sales dipped 0.3 percent. GM reported sharp declines in its pickup truck sales for the month, overall down 14.4 percent from a year ago.
Confirming the industry trend away from cars, GM said crossover sales to retail customers are growing. Each of its brands is seeing double digit percentage growth in the segment from a year ago.
“We see crossovers becoming an even bigger part of the industry and GM sales over the next five years,” Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of sales operations, said in a statement. “Just five years ago, about one in four GM sales were crossovers. Today, they account for almost one-third of our deliveries and we see more growth ahead.”
Fiat Chrysler said Chrysler brand sales dropped 3.3 percent, due largely to the elimination of the Chrysler 200 sedan. Jeep brand sales dropped 16.5 percent, while Ram brand sales rose 5.3 percent, as Ram pickup sales jumped 7.6 percent to 43,321.
Fiat brand sales dropped 18 percent in April. Luxury makes Alfa Romeo and Maserati were bright spots for Fiat Chrysler, increasing 1,047 percent and 18.7 percent, respectively from a year ago.
Declining sales aren’t just impacting Detroit metal. Nissan North America Inc. and Toyota Motor North America also posted year-over-year April sales declines of 1.5 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively. American Honda Motor Co. said it sold 138,386 vehicles in April, down 7 percent from a year ago due to a drop in Honda division car sales, and a 26.3 percent decline in Acura truck sales. Kia Motors America also posted a sales dip of 5.6 percent in April.
Volkswagen AG and Hyundai Motor America bucked the downward trend. Volkswagen posted a 1.6 percent increase in April, as its sales totaled 27,557, while Hyundai, aided by Tucson sales posted an increase of 1.3 percent to 63,050.
American Honda Motor Co. said it sold 138,386 vehicles in April, down 7 percent from a year ago due to a drop in Honda division car sales, and a 26.3 percent decline in Acura truck sales.
California-based Tesla Inc. reports quarterly deliveries, though Autodata estimates Tesla’s April sales likely were about 3,850, which would be up about a third from the same month in 2016. For the first quarter, Tesla said it delivered just more than 25,000 vehicles to U.S. customers, a quarterly record and up 69 percent from the first three months in 2016.
Tesla is scheduled to post first quarter results Wednesday. The electric-car maker said it delivered about 13,450 Model S and 11,550 Model X during the quarter.