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10 Takeaways from U.S. Auto Sales in November

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New-vehicle sales were strong in November – strong enough to all but guarantee a full-year sales total for 2019 in the 17-million neighborhood, the fifth year in a row we’ve pushed sales above the magic 17 million mark. We’re in a healthy new-car market right now with the U.S. consumer in the buying mood, energized by historically low unemployment and rising wages. If there are signs of a slowing market or coming recession, the message has not reached Mr. or Mrs. Average American.

November was driven in part by robust retail sales, not fleet. Fleet has been strong in 2019 but is clearly waning as the year winds down, dropping 10.8% in October and  9.3% in November. Here’s an additional 10 points our team found most interesting in November, all based on Cox Automotive analysis and estimates.

  1. Who’s hot? Hyundai and Kia are hot. Combined sales topped 111,000 in November, up nearly 9,000 from year-ago levels. The fresh energy is being found in the new three-row SUVS – Palisades and Telluride, respectively. They both have the look, the package and the price to move.
  2. Who’s not hot? Nissan Corporation. Sorry, but both Nissan and Infiniti brands had rough sales months on November. How rough? The press release announcing November’s corporate-wide vehicle sales amounted to just 126 words. Not much to celebrate when sales sink by nearly 16% versus year-ago levels; Infiniti brand was off more than 30 percent. Nissan is struggling on many fronts right now, including U.S. sales.
  3. As we’ve seen consistently in 2019, 30 models account for approximately half of the U.S. sales volume. The top-30 accounted for 51% of volume in November when there were 292 different models with at least one sale; 146 models combined – the bottom half – accounted for less than 10% of total volume.
  4. Toyota and Honda both posted strong sales in November driven in part by – SURPRISE – strong car sales. But it is not a surprise, really, as the domestic makers have all but abandoned the segment and Toyota and Honda are benefitting. Even Nissan, a company that had a dreadful sales month (see point #2) increased car sales versus November 2018. Car sales are not dead in the U.S. – they’re dead at domestic-brand dealerships.
  5. High-performance cars and super luxury models are expensive. We know that. But so are full-size SUVs. In November, the average manufacturer suggested retail price of a full-size SUV in the U.S. was $68,430. No wonder Chevrolet wants to get their all-new 2021 full-size Tahoe and Suburban into the market as soon as possible.
  6. Fiat continues to struggle. Our estimate for November: Approximately 500 sales. Total. Nationwide. And Fiat has four models.
  7. We know the domestic brands dominate the full-size pickup segment. In November, when more than 215,000 full-size pickups sold in the U.S., the domestic brands owned 95% of the volume. Combined last month, Toyota and Nissan delivered less than 11,000 full-size pickups.
  8. Don’t underestimate the importance of Ford Explorer to the Blue Oval’s bottom line. And sales of the profit-machine continue to struggle. The vehicle is excellent, but production and distribution woes are making a mess of the launch. Sales are down more than 25% year to date through November. If there is a silver lining in this dark story, it’s the all-new Aviator – the more-expensive Lincoln version – which is adding incremental profit to the Lincoln bottom line.
  9. Incentives were on the boil in November. Program volume was near a record for the month – behind only November 2017 – and there were plenty of good deals to be had, particularly on remaining 2019 models. As a percent of average transaction price, November incentives reached 10.7%, up from 10.3% in October and near the high point for the year. In August, the number was 10.8%.
  10. For the most part, we are now in a world where European luxury and performance is defined by the almighty SUV. In November, roughly 55% of Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz sales were SUVs. Audi and BMW sales – approximately 60% SUVs. At Porsche, 70% of sales were SUVs. Jaguar and Volvo came in near 75% and Land Rover, of course, was 100%.

 

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