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Trucks and SUVs Drive Market Strength in October 2019 U.S. Auto Sales

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UPDATE, Nov. 4, 2019 – The Industry Insights team at Cox Automotive share supplementary thoughts based on additional October sales reports.

From Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist, Cox Automotive

October sales appear to be coming in below this year’s average selling rate of 17.0 million. The consensus range was in the 16.7-17.3 million range, and the results suggest the low-end of expectations were realized.  Due to the GM strike, and the likely resulting pullback in fleet activity, sales for October will likely finish near a 16.7 million adjusted rate. Given the rising uncertainty in the economy, the key question for the vehicle market for the remainder of 2019 is whether this slight October downturn was a one-off, or has the market shifted to a slower pace.

From Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book

The broad consensus at the start of the year was that 2019 would be the first time we didn’t hit 17 million new-vehicle sales in several years. With 2 months of the year left, that consensus isn’t so broad anymore. The market continues to do better than expected, with an increasing number of these sales represented by high-profit trucks and SUVs. That means high profits and strong financials for many large automakers. Even if sales fall below 17 million this year, it will still be a very strong year for the industry.

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Automakers began reporting October sales results today, with more expected to follow on Monday, November 4. Initial reports indicate October sales volume will be up slightly, as our Industry Insights team forecast earlier this week.

No big scares were expected from the new-vehicle market in the U.S. this October. Cox Automotive is forecasting October U.S. new-vehicle sales volume to finish at nearly 1.37 million, up slightly from last year. The sales pace is expected to decline from last year’s 17.5 million level to 16.9 million this year.

In October, average transaction price for a light vehicle in the United States was $38,259 in October 2019, up $1,064 (up 2.9%) from October 2018, while decreasing $141 (down 0.4%) from last month. You can read the details here.

Below is commentary on today’s sales results from the Industry Insights team at Cox Automotive. We will update our commentary as required.

From Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist, Cox Automotive
Despite no shortage of negative news headlines and political unrest stirring the nation’s capital, the strong economy continues to support a robust vehicle market. Healthy employment levels, stock market highs, and recent cuts to interest rates all suggest there is no collapse in the immediate future for vehicle sales. The market in 2019 has been on pace for a record fifth year of more than 17 million vehicle sales, and there is little evidence today to suggest that trend has changed in October. Sales look to be coming in near consensus estimates of the high 16s/low 17s range, with trucks driving market strength as car sales continue to decline, a trend that’s likely to continue into next year.

From Michelle Krebs, executive analyst, Autotrader
If the Asian manufacturers who have reported sales are any indication, October marked yet another month of the dramatic shift from cars to SUVs.

Hyundai posted a hefty 12% sales increase on the strength of double-digit growth for is SUVs along with the addition of the new Palisade SUV. The Honda CR-V had a hefty 15% increase. RAV4, thanks to the addition of a hot-selling hybrid version, rose.

Indeed, according to Q3 Kelley Blue Book Brand Watch, car shopping consideration slumped to its lowest level ever in Q3, while, by segment, shopping for SUVs was first by a wide margin.

October was not a stellar month for Japanese luxury sales, even though luxury had been running stronger than the overall market. Infiniti, a brand struggling for its place in the world, had a dismal month due to aging products and turmoil at the top of the company. Likewise, Honda’s Acura brand had a lackluster month. Its RDX, the new darling just over a year ago, is a lesson in how new isn’t new for very long in the competitive SUV segment. Lexus’ flat month was largely due to soft car sales. All three Japanese luxury brands are down year to date.

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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