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Cox Automotive Forecast: U.S. Auto Sales Expected To Rise From Weak January

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Article Highlights

  1. February’s new light-vehicle sales are expected to be up nearly 9,000 units from February 2018, with sales up nearly 190,000 vehicles, or 17 percent, over a slower-than-forecast January.
  2. Seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) for February will be an important early signal of new-vehicle market strength.
  3. Automotive market is in wait-and-see mode due to threat of a new auto and parts tariffs.

ATLANTA, Feb. 25, 2019 – According to a forecast released today by Cox Automotive, new-vehicle sales pace in February is expected to rise to 17.1 million units, an increase from January’s weak, weather-impacted 16.6 million level. The pace should also rise modestly over last February’s 16.9 million, which was the slowest in the first half of 2018.

Sales volume of 1.31 million units forecast for February is expected to up 0.7 percent over last year, as some delayed purchases from the prior month lift the market.

“Although this month is expected to have an uptick from last month, this does not suggest the market is returning to last year’s 17.2 million level,” said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive. “In fact, the SAAR this month will be an important early 2019 signal as to the strength of the vehicle market. January’s pace was below expectations, but the ‘big freeze’ across much of the country the during the last week of sales likely disrupted activity. Some lift in February’s sales is expected as delayed vehicle buyers complete their purchases. If February’s sales come in weaker than expected, like January, then we may be in the early stages of the vehicle market’s shift to a much slower pace.”

As the year progresses, affordability, tariffs, off-lease volume and car share are all market influences that could affect the new-car market. Industry watchers have been expecting the vehicle market to slow down, yet the pace has remained strong. Since March 2015, the monthly SAAR has averaged 17.3 million, but many forecasts – including Cox Automotive’s – predict this pace to finally decline in 2019. January was one data point in that direction, and February may be as well.

February, like January, is one of the weakest months for sales on the automotive calendar. The hectic end-of-year market activity that occurs in December slows dramatically at the start of each year. And, fewer car shoppers want to roam dealer lots when weather is cold, so sales volume is light during the dark days of winter. The record for February occurred in 2000 when vehicle sales reached 1.5 million for the month, and a SAAR of 18.9 million. Reaching a new record this February is highly unlikely as volume over the last four years has average only 1.3 million, well below the additional 200,000 sales needed.

Key Highlights for February 2019 Sales Forecast

  • In February, new light-vehicle sales, including fleet, are expected to reach 1.31 million units, up nearly 9,000 units, or 0.7 percent, from February 2018. Sales will also be up nearly 190,000 vehicles, or 17 percent, over January.
  • The seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) in February 2019 is estimated to be 17.1 million, up from last month’s 16.6 million level, and up from last year’s 16.9 million pace.
  • The record February SAAR occurred in 2000 when the pace reached 18.9 million, and the record volume was achieved as well, reaching 1.5 million.

Strength in Jeep brand should help lift Fiat Chrysler to a strong showing while weakness in car segments is likely to negatively impact Ford, Honda, Nissan and Toyota.

Sales Forecast1 Market Share
  Feb-19 Feb-18 Jan-19 YOY% MOM% Feb-19 Jan-19 MOM
GM 218,000 220,000* 185,000* -1.3% 17.8% 16.6% 16.5% 0.1%
Ford Motor Co 190,000 193,362 171,000* -1.7% 10.6% 14.5% 15.3% -0.8%
Toyota Motor Co 180,000 182,195 156,021 -1.2% 15.4% 13.7% 13.9% -0.2%
FCA Group 170,000 165,903 136,082 2.5% 24.9% 13.0% 12.1% 0.8%
American Honda 115,000 115,557 106,139 -0.5% 8.3% 8.8% 9.5% -0.7%
Nissan NA 122,000 129,930 100,741 -6.1% 21.1% 9.3% 9.0% 0.3%
Hyundai Kia 90,000 86,767 79,396 3.7% 13.4% 6.9% 7.1% -0.2%
VW 46,000 46,493 42,746 -1.1% 7.6% 3.5% 3.8% -0.3%
Subaru 48,000 47,249 46,072 1.6% 4.2% 3.7% 4.1% -0.4%
Grand Total2 1,310,000 1,301,462 1,121,703 0.7% 16.8%      
1 February 2019 Cox Automotive Industry Insights Forecast; all historical data from OEM sales announcements
2 Total includes brands not shown.
* GM and Ford monthly sales are estimated.

Most car segments should continue to see significant declines from last year as consumers continue to shift towards CUVs. A big question for the industry is whether a bottom in car sales is close, particularly if affordability becomes a greater issue in 2019. Some return to cheaper transportation options may provide support for car segments; however, that hasn’t been seen in the data yet.

Sales Forecast1 Market Share
Segment Feb-19 Feb-18 Jan-19 YOY% MOM% Feb-19 Jan-19 MOM
Mid-Size Car 110,000 120,900 95,461 -9.0% 15.2% 8.4% 8.5% -0.1%
Compact Car 130,000 143,498 115,817 -9.4% 12.2% 9.9% 10.3% -0.4%
Compact SUV/Crossover 250,000 236,722 209,795 5.6% 19.2% 19.1% 18.7% 0.4%
Full-Size Pickup Truck 175,000 168,724 150,494 3.7% 16.3% 13.4% 13.4% -0.1%
Mid-Size SUV/Crossover 200,000 192,776 169,853 3.7% 17.7% 15.3% 15.1% 0.1%
Grand Total2 1,310,000 1,301,462 1,121,703 0.7% 16.8%      
1 Cox Automotive Industry Insights data
2 Total includes segments not shown.

All percentages are based on raw volume, not daily selling rate.

Cox Automotive One-on-One Interviews and Quarterly Sales Conference Call

Cox Automotive is organizing one-on-one interviews with our industry experts on Friday, March 1. Analysts will be available to answer questions and provide insights on the results as they come in. Written commentary will be published and distributed by 11:15 a.m. EST on sales day.

Save the Date: A quarterly sales conference call hosted by Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke will be held on Thursday, March 28. Joining Smoke will be Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader, and Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, to provide industry analysis and insights for the first quarter and a market outlook for the first half.

About Cox Automotive
Cox Automotive Inc. makes buying, selling and owning cars easier for everyone. The global company’s 34,000-plus team members and family of brands, including Autotrader®, Clutch Technologies, Dealer.com®, Dealertrack®, Kelley Blue Book®, Manheim®, NextGear Capital®, VinSolutions®, vAuto® and Xtime®, are passionate about helping millions of car shoppers, 40,000 auto dealer clients across five countries and many others throughout the automotive industry thrive for generations to come. Cox Automotive is a subsidiary of Cox Enterprises Inc., a privately-owned, Atlanta-based company with revenues exceeding $20 billion. www.coxautoinc.com

Media Contacts:
Mark Schirmer
734 883 6346
mark.schirmer@coxautoinc.com

Dara Hailes
470 658 0656
dara.hailes@coxautoinc.com

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