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February 2019 U.S. Automotive Sales

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Article Highlights

  1. "February had a lot of good economic news to support a healthy vehicle market outlook, but that may not be coming to pass," said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist, Cox Automotive.
  2. "We knew skyrocketing comparisons to last year, particularly for the Jeep brand, would catch up with Fiat Chrysler sometime this year and it has happened in February," said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst, Autotrader.
  3. According to Brian Moody, executive editor, Autotrader: "One takeaway from February slow sales? Fiat might be a cautionary tale for Peugeot: trading primarily on your “uniqueness” and “heritage” from a brand everyone has forgotten might not be a good strategy."

Reported February 2019 new-vehicle sales are coming in softer than Cox Automotive had forecast. Considering current reports, our team believes both General Motors and Ford will come in lower than expectations as well. Earlier this week, we had forecast GM to drop 1.3 percent and Ford to drop 1.7 percent. While some luxury makers delivered positive y-o-y results, the overall industry story for February is one of decline versus 2018.

Please find below commentary and notable highlights from the team at Cox Automotive, reflecting on a slow start to a new year.

From Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist, Cox Automotive

February had a lot of good economic news to support a healthy vehicle market outlook, but that may not be coming to pass. The stock market has had a tremendous ride since the start of the year and consumer confidence, which took a tumble in January, has regained much of its decline. With January’s government shutdown and record-breaking sub-zero temperatures in the rearview mirror, we expected a general upward lift in February.  However, given that this doesn’t appear to be happening, the results today suggest a much bigger story: The sales pace has finally shifted into a lower gear than the mid-17 million rate we finished 2018 with.

From Michelle Krebs, executive analyst, Autotrader

We knew skyrocketing comparisons to last year, particularly for the Jeep brand, would catch up with Fiat Chrysler sometime this year and it has happened in February. Jeep brand sales were down largely due to declines in Compass and Renegade sales, two models purchased by more budget-constrained buyers – ones possibly awaiting tax refunds to apply to a downpayment. Minivan sales were down, and FCA had been cutting production due to inventory build-up. A rising number of three-row sport utility vehicles may be competing with Chrysler minivans.  And Fiat, with only 616 sales for some 400 dealers, is it time to give up on the franchise? There’s nothing on the horizon to suggest it will turn around. In all the FCA news, the only bright spot is Ram 1500. The pickup is racking up awards and sales, giving competitors a good run.

From Brian Moody, executive editor, Autotrader

One takeaway from February slow sales? Fiat might be a cautionary tale for Peugeot: trading primarily on your “uniqueness” and “heritage” from a brand everyone has forgotten might not be a good strategy.

From Brad Korner, general manager, Cox Automotive Rates and Incentives

Incentive volumes and values began moving upward in February after leveling off in Q4 of last year. We often see available incentives increase in February and the spring months, as there are a lot of auto show specials in place, short term deals in cities hosting the shows. We were interested to see a few new 0%-financing deals offered through GM Financial for Chevrolet and Buick, which is often used as a traffic driver. Most companies moved away from 0% as interest rates began to rise and have focused instead on customer and dealer cash.

If you would like to speak with one of the expert analysts from Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book or any member of the Cox Automotive Industry Insights team, please contact us.

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