Americans buy more trucks, SUVs in February

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CHICAGO: Americans’ strong appetite for light trucks and sport utility vehicles helped drive sales higher in February at some automakers, while others struggled with continued weakening demand for sedans and compact cars.

GM, Nissan, Honda and Mazda were among the companies posting sales gains last month, while Ford, Toyota, and Fiat Chrysler’s US subsidiary reported declines compared to the same period a year ago.

The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate for the month dipped to 17.58 million units, down slightly from the same period last year, according to Autodata.

Sales volume, the total number of vehicles actually sold, dropped one percent from the year ago period to 1.33 million—a 17 percent decline from January.

The industry is coming off of a record sales year in 2016, and this year’s pace is still expected to be robust even if consumer demand weakens.

“The sales pace for the industry is healthy, and more importantly, looks to be sustainable as we head into the high volume selling months ahead,” industry analyst Tim Fleming of Kelley Blue Book said earlier this week.

GM—the biggest US automaker by sales volume—grew four percent in February. The company expects newly-introduced and recently redesigned crossovers to drive sales in 2017.

“We delivered solid growth in the industry’s fastest-growing and most profitable segments,” Kurt McNeil, GM’s head of US sales, said in a statement.

Nissan sales grew by 3.7 percent, with crossovers, trucks and SUVs experiencing 22 percent increase year-over-year. Its Rogue compact crossover was the most popular model for the month, and saw sales surge an eye-popping 54 percent.

Mazda posted a sales gain of 5.9 percent, led by its crossover SUVs, while Honda grew 2.3 percent on the strength of its popular CR-V SUV.

Ford, Toyota, FCA US decline

Ford, Toyota and FCA US struggled, with robust SUV and light truck sales unable to compensate for an industry-wide decline in cars and compacts.

FCA US posted a 10 percent decline, with fewer sales in every model except Ram trucks, which rose four percent.

Ford sales fell four percent, despite selling 65,956 F-Series pickup trucks—twice as many as some competitors’ most popular models.

However, Ford’s sedan and compact-car sales slid 25.7 percent.

Toyota declined 7.2 percent compared to last February. But the company was upbeat about March, expecting its light trucks and SUVs to perform well.

“February saw continued demand for utility vehicles, and as we move into March, our healthy luxury utility vehicle inventory puts us in an excellent position,” Jeff Bracken, chief of Toyota USA’s Lexus division, said in a statement.
Other luxury automakers saw signs of optimism, too.

Mercedes-Benz said it had the best February in the US in its history. Sales were up 6.9 percent, led by its C-Class entry level sedans.

BMW grew a mere 0.3 percent, but—like Toyota—expected better results in March.

“March is the real beginning of the automotive selling season in the US and BMW is well positioned for success,” Ludwig Willisch, head of BMW’s Americas group, said in a statement.

Volkswagen showed more signs of recovery from its diesel emissions cheating scandal, which hobbled sales for much of 2016. The company posted a 12.7 percent increase this February compared to last. Its Tiguan SUV sales grew 5.5 percent, and its mid-priced Passat sedan sales jumped 39.6 percent.

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