Detroit Three January 2018 Auto Sales: Trucks Can’t Carry It All

2018 Ford F-150 - Image: Ford

After the industry’s first annual sales decline of the post-recession era in 2017, the small uptick in year-over-year U.S. auto sales in January 2018 shouldn’t be seen as a trend, analysts warn. This year will apparently bring more worry for automakers as buyers plan fewer trips to the dealership.

For the domestic brands, January brought a mixed sales bag. Two members of the Detroit Three posted significant sales declines, while the third squeaking by on the strength of light truck sales. Clearly, having a lineup full of pickups, SUVs, and crossovers helps a company’s bottom line, but it’s no guarantee of ever-higher volume in today’s market.

All-new 2018 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara

Superficially, the biggest loser last month was Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which posted a 13 percent year-over-year U.S. sales drop.

Digging a little deeper, we can see a key reason for the loss of volume: fleet sales. In keeping with its bid for a sturdier financial foundation, FCA’s fleet volume fell 50.5 percent in January — a loss of 21,642 low-profit units. By shedding these sales, the company’s fleet mix declined from 28.2 percent of all vehicles sold to 16 percent.

Among the automaker’s many divisions, only Jeep and Alfa Romeo posted a year-over-year sales gain last month. Jeep climbed 2 percent thanks to growth in Compass, Wrangler and Cherokee volume. Meanwhile, Alfa, now with three models in its fold, saw sales grow by 1,426 percent. (This still only amounts to 1,648 vehicles sold.)

Meanwhile, the two-model Chrysler brand fell 21 percent, year over year, joined by losses at Dodge (down 31 percent), Ram (down 16 percent), and Fiat (down 43 percent.)

2016 Ford Explorer

Ford Motor Company didn’t see a stellar month, but its losses pale in comparison to those at the Lincoln brand. Overall, the automaker saw a 6.6 percent year-over-year sales decline in January, divvied up between Ford (down 5.6 percent) and Lincoln (down 27 percent).

Due mainly to order timing, fleet sales fell 12 percent. That leaves the Blue Oval’s fleet mix at 28.5 percent of overall volume. Sales of all passenger cars, save for the defunct 2017 Fiesta, fell in January, most significantly among traditional sedans. In fact, the only models to see year-over-year increases were the E-Series van and the F-150, the latter of which posted its best January since 2004, with YoY sales up 1.6 percent.

If you’re tallying this up in your mind, yes, the Escape, Edge, Flex, Explorer, and Expedition all posted volume losses compared to last January. Last month was the first time Ford recorded any EcoSport sales, with 500 on the ledger.

The only Lincoln vehicle to not see a steep sales decrease was the redesigned Navigator, with year-over-year volume up 98 percent.

Moving over to the Renaissance Center, it was General Motors’ month to lord over its two rivals. The automaker posted a 1.3 percent year-over-year sales increase in the U.S., spurred on by healthy light truck sales. Fleet volume also increased, with its share of the overall mix rising 2.9 percent to 23.8 percent of all vehicles sold.

What divisions stood out? Chevrolet and Buick, which posted YoY sales increases of 5 and 4 percent, respectively. As buyers await an all-new model, Buick Regal sales fell 40.3 percent, offset by a clearly fleet-fueled 130 percent increase in LaCrosse volume. Enclave sales remained flat, though 13.7 percent more buyers took home an Envision in January.

Growth in Chevrolet volume can be traced back to increased demand for the Trax, Equinox, Tahoe, Traverse, Colorado, and Silverado. Passenger car sales were a repeat of those from other automakers. Trajectory: down, with the sole exception of the all-electric Bolt (up 1.3 percent from last January, when the model was only available in limited markets). Compared to December, Bolt sales fell by nearly half. Blame buyers with one eye on the environment and the other on their taxes.

Increases in sales of the Escalade, XT5, and ATS couldn’t keep Cadillac’s head above water, with that division’s January sales down 3.9 percent, year over year. At GMC, an 11.4 percent sales decline speaks to fewer buyers for the Sierra, Yukon, Yukon XL, and Acadia. The midsize Canyon pickup saw a 5.4 percent YoY increase, and the new-for-2018 Terrain rose 14.2 percent.

[Images: General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]