As expected, U.S. new-vehicle sales in total were down in January compared with a year ago, but they came in a tad higher than many had forecasted. They likely got a bump for more-than-anticipated fleet sales, notably sales to daily rental car companies.
Total fleet sales rose 10 percent in January, led by a 16-percent gain to daily rental companies and a nearly 6-percent rise to government fleets. Commercial fleet sales declined by nearly 2 percent in January after a significant 9-percent gain in full-year 2018 due to the business benefits of tax reform, which won’t be repeated this year.
Of total fleet sales, daily rental car sales represent the biggest volume – about 1.7 million sales in full-year 2018. In January, daily rental accounted for 67 percent of all fleet sales, up from 64 percent in January 2018.
Automakers typically frontload daily rental sales into the beginning of the year when retail sales are lowest.