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Cox Automotive Forecast: Healthy December Auto Sales Will Lift Industry to 17 Million Units for Record 5th Straight Year

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Article Highlights

  1. December sales volume is expected to fall to 1.58 million, down 3.2% or about 50,000 units from December 2018.
  2. Annual vehicle sales pace in December is expected finish near 17.2 million, up from November’s 17.1 million level, but down from last December’s 17.4 million.
  3. Total vehicle sales for 2019 forecast to finish above 17.0 million – fifth year in a row.

ATLANTA, Dec. 23, 2019 – No coal is expected in this year’s stockings as annual vehicle sales head toward another 17 million finish. Sales volume this month is likely to be just enough to lift the market above 17 million units for the fifth consecutive year. Cox Automotive expects auto sales in the U.S. to reach 1.58 million in December, slightly above the 1.55 million needed to reach the milestone.

The seasonally adjusted sales pace is expected to finish near 17.2 million, up from last month’s 17.1 million level, and just above the current 2019 year-to-date pace near 17.0 million. Sales volume, based on 25 selling days, one less than last month or last year, is expected to finish down 3.2% versus December 2018, however up nearly 11% from last month. Total sales in 2019 are down more than 1% from last year, and this negative trend is expected to continue this month, and into 2020.

Strong December sales are critical for the industry, particularly for clearing previous model year inventory from dealerships. Consumer interest peaks during the holiday shopping season and buyers take advantage of significant OEM discounts and incentives. In recent years, December sales have been hot with the four best-ever Decembers occurring in the last four years, and the SAAR has averaged over 17.4 million.

This year may be slightly different, according to Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive: “One key factor for this December’s results is the sales calendar. With 25 selling days, one less than last December, a sales volume decline is expected. In addition, Thanksgiving and Black Friday deals were late last month, shortening the holiday shopping period and possibly pulling some December vehicle buyers forward. In fact, last month’s sales volume was the highest November in history, and 30,000-50,000 above recent years.”

The record for December occurred in 2016 when 1.68 million vehicles sold. The average over the last four December results is closer to 1.63 million, about 70,000 above the minimum needed to reach 17.0 million.

A new sales record is possible this month given the upside potential of fleet activity and deep retail discounts, but with fewer selling days, it is highly unlikely. Daily sales in 2019 are averaging close to 55,000, so one less selling day is a major headwind to annual gains. (For more perspective on sales incentives, see this article in the Cox Automotive Newsroom: A December – And Year – To Remember!)

December 2019 Sales Forecast Highlights

  • New light-vehicle sales, including fleet, are forecast to reach 1.58 million units, down about 50,000 units, or 3.2%, compared to December 2018. Compared to last month, sales are expected to rise nearly 160,000 units, or 11%.
  • The SAAR in December 2019 is forecast to be 17.2 million, up from last month’s 17.1 million level and down from last year’s 17.4 million. December 2019 has 25 selling days, one less than last December and last month. The decrease in selling days is lifting the SAAR estimates near last year even though overall sales volume is expected to decline.

December 2019 Forecast

Q4 2019 and Full Year Forecast

Fleet Drives the Market in 2019
Fleet activity has been an important story for 2019 sales and the industry outlook going into 2020. Fleet sales are up significantly in 2019, as they were in 2018, and these gains have been supporting an otherwise declining retail market.

With hundreds of thousands of additional fleet deliveries over the last two years, growth in 2020 from this high base will be challenging. However, without it, the vehicle market could fall significantly. Retail sales – both leasing and purchasing – are down this year, and like last year, without fleet’s support, industry sales would be closer to mid-16 million levels. Increasing retail sales at this late stage of the current sales cycle seems challenging, particularly with transaction prices and incentive discounts already elevated.

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

Download more information on the full-year forecast from Cox Automotive.

About Cox Automotive
Cox Automotive Inc. makes buying, selling, owning and using 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 continents 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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