Presidents Day promotions and a slight warm-up from January’s unusually harsh winter weather may have helped U.S. auto sales improve this month, but probably not by much.
Automotive News reported that high inventories and rising incentives are raising questions about whether the auto industry has lost some of its momentum as the critical spring selling season draws near.
“We expect elevated incentive spending to continue,” Larry Dominique, executive vice president of TrueCar, said in a statement. “March is going to be a ‘must-win’ month for dealers if they hope to have a successful 2014.”
TrueCar estimates that February new-vehicle sales will rise just 0.5% from a year ago, to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 15.4 million. That compares with a SAAR of 15.2 million last month, when snowstorms and subzero temperatures across large swaths of the country dampened showroom traffic, and 15.3 million in February 2013.
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Auto sales are on pace to increase at least 12% this month from a year ago, according to four analyst forecasts released today (Oct. 25), as the industry regains momentum lost during a weak September and a 16-day government shutdown.
Automotive News reported that analysts from LMC Automotive, Kelley Blue Book and Barclays Capital each said the industry’s seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate would climb to an estimated 15.4 million, from 14.2 million in October 2012. Edmunds.com is forecasting a 13% increase and a SAAR of 15.5 million.
“It looks like the government shutdown ended just in the nick of time,” Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ senior analyst, said in a statement. “The week-by-week data suggests that consumers started to get jittery by the middle of the month. But with the government back to work, most lost sales should be made up in the latter half of the month, and the industry’s momentum will continue the pace it enjoyed before the disruption in Washington.”
Registration data from J.D. Power and Associates, which LMC uses to prepare its forecasts, show that retail sales strengthened after the government resumed operations Oct. 17. Sales were most affected in the Atlantic Coast region, falling 6.5% in the first two weeks of the month before rising 2.5% after the shutdown ended. LMC expects retail sales nationwide to be up 12% for all of October.
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Auto website Edmunds.com predicts U.S. auto sales will hit 16.4 million vehicles in 2014. As reported by the Detroit News, that would be up about 6% over the 15.5 million expected in 2013 and would be the most since 2006, when Americans bought 16.5 million cars and trucks.
“The average age of all light vehicles on the road climbed to 11.4 years in 2013, and an aging fleet will continue to force buyers back to the market next year,” said Edmunds.com chief economist Lacey Plache. “With used car prices still elevated over past norms and used car supply still tight, the new car market will remain attractive to many of these buyers.”
Plache predicts the auto sales environment in 2014 will closely resemble 2013. Edmunds projects that new car sales will come in at around 15.5 million. That includes a continued flood of lease returns to the market: Edmunds estimates that 500,000 more leases will expire in 2013 than in 2012 and predicts it will grow by an additional 300,000 in 2014, accounting for about a third of all expected sales growth in 2014.
The selling rate for new cars and trucks in September was 15.3 million, down from 16.1 million in August.
Edmunds says if new car sales grow at the 6% rate it projects, it will be the slowest year-to-year growth since auto sales bottomed out in 2009.
“The economy has not yet improved enough for recovery to widely reach the groups hardest hit by the recession, including young people, lower-income households and small businesses,” said Plache. “Even though auto sales from these groups have improved from recession lows, their participation in the recovery still lags the rest of the market.”
Morgan Stanley auto analyst Adam Jonas said in a research note there are warning signs for the auto industry, especially in “industry pricing discipline… This industry is clearly better than it was in 2006, but may not be quite as good as you think it is.”
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There’s only one possible conclusion if you believe a panel of economists at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich., last week: The future of the North American auto industry is so bright that we should all be donning shades.
It was happy talk, yes — but backed by a big wad of data.
Automotive News reported that new vehicle sales in the United States have risen for 26 straight months, but “we are not even back to trend,” said Mustafa Mohatarem, chief economist for General Motors. “Things are very, very positive.”
For starters, North America will have a spike in sales in 2015 thanks to a “scrappage balloon” — old vehicles biting the dust and sending those clunker owners streaming into showrooms.
Automakers are on track to exceed the North American production record of 17.2 million units in 2016. But with exports to growing markets elsewhere in the world ready to take off, production records are expected through at least 2020.
Also, manufacturers are primed to introduce or significantly rework a record number of vehicles in the next three years as they race to meet tightening fuel economy standards in 2016.
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On top of that there is the return of leasing to consider, and the prospects that younger demographic groups — the ones who, according to various surveys, don’t like cars — will change their minds when they get a job, pay down their student debt and can afford to buy one.
March is turning out to be the best month for auto sales in at least six years. The Associated Press reported that major automakers including Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, General Motors and Nissan all reported increases, with some reporting their best monthly totals since the start of the Great Recession in December 2007.
Buyers were lured to showrooms by flashy new vehicles and low interest rates. Moreover, they continue to replace older cars and trucks — the average age of a vehicle on U.S. roads is more than 11 years.
“A strong first-quarter close and increased consumer confidence continue to position the auto industry as a leader in the economic recovery,” Bob Carter, Toyota’s senior vice president of automotive operations, said in a statement.
Sales at Ford and General Motors each rose about 6%, while Chrysler sales rose 5% compared with last March. Toyota and Nissan each reported 1% sales increases, but Nissan said March was still the best month in company history. Chrysler sold nearly 172,000 cars and trucks, its best month since December 2007, while Ford reported its best month since May 2007 with sales of about 236,000.
Toyota sold more than 205,000 cars and trucks in March, its highest total since August 2009, when the government paid people to trade in their clunkers for new vehicles. But Toyota’s pace of growth is slowing because sales are being compared with huge monthly increases last year. Both Toyota and Honda had big years in 2012 as they recovered from a 2011 earthquake in Japan that hobbled their factories and caused shortages of cars and trucks.
Industry analysts estimate that total March sales reached nearly 1.5 million cars and trucks, a number not seen since May 2007. Total U.S. sales are expected to be up 3% to 5% over March 2012.
The strong numbers are another sign that Americans are buying cars in increasing numbers as their financial situation improves.
Alec Gutierrez, a senior market analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said the improving job market is boosting sales. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low during March. Low interest rates are also making new-car purchases more appealing, Gutierrez said. The average rate for a 60-month new-car loan is now 4.12%, down from 4.52% at this time last year, according to Bankrate.com.
Gutierrez also said tax refunds may have spurred purchases. The average federal tax refund this year is nearly $3,000, or enough to cover the down payment on a three-year lease of a Toyota Camry hybrid or a BMW 3-Series sedan.
Americans want new cars and trucks, and they’re not going to let higher gas prices or political dysfunction in Washington stand in their way.
The Associated Press reported that General Motors, Toyota, Ford and most other automakers posted at least modest sales gains for February. Industry analysts estimate last month’s sales rose about 7% from a year earlier as pent-up demand and cheap financing kept the U.S. auto sales recovery powering along.
GM sales rose 7%, while Ford’s increased 9 percent. Chrysler and Volkswagen also reported increases, but both slowed from the torrid pace of the past two years. Chrysler sales were up 4% over a year earlier, while VW sales were up 3 percent. Toyota sales were up just over 4%, while Hyundai posted a 2% gain.
Of the major automakers, Nissan and Honda were down. Nissan sales were off almost 7% from a record February of 2012, while Honda blamed its 2% drop on the winter snowstorm in the Northeast.
But while sales for 2013 are expected to top last year’s figures, monthly increases are likely to be smaller than the double-digit gains the industry has regularly posted as sales recovered from historic lows following the recession.
Still, GM’s sales were the best since February of 2008, led by the Chevrolet Silverado pickup with an increase of 29%. Kurt McNeil, the company’s U.S. sales chief, said the recovery in new home construction is helping to boost the economy and pickup sales. When home construction thrives, businesses tend to invest more to replace vehicles. The average age of a U.S. pickup truck is just over 11 years.
Ford also reported strong sales of its F-Series pickups, up 15%. The company also posted record February totals for the Escape SUV and Fusion sedan.
U.S. auto sales in February remain strong despite rising fuel prices and the threat of fresh government spending cuts, two independent forecasters say.
Automotive News reported that LMC Automotive, the forecasting partner of J.D. Power and Associates, today projected a seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate of 15.2 million for February, based on the first 14 days of the month.
Citing an improving U.S. economy, LMC also raised its estimate for the full year by 200,000 units to 15.3 million light vehicles.
U.S. sales grew 13% last year to 14.5 million units, as the industry continued its comeback from the recession low of 10.4 million recorded in 2009.
“Current fundamentals driving strong vehicles sales … are expected to get a boost by additional positive factors this year,” said Jeff Schuster, the company’s top auto forecaster, citing an anticipated housing recovery, more new-model launches and a higher number of vehicles coming off lease.
Automakers plan to release February sales results on March 1.
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Most of the big car companies are reporting double-digit gains for January as last year’s momentum in U.S. auto sales continues into 2013.
The Associated Press reported that sales at Toyota rose 27% and jumped 22% at Ford, including a 22% gain in the company’s F-Series pickup truck. GM and Chrysler each reported 16% gains compared with a year earlier. It was Chrysler’s best January in five years.
GM’s Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra each saw increases of over 30% while sales of the Ram pickup, Chrysler’s top-selling vehicle, rose 14% from a year earlier. Those gains give a strong indication that businesses are replacing aging pickup trucks that they kept through the Great Recession.
But Volkswagen, which reported a 31% increase in 2012, saw sales slow a bit, growing only 7%.
Other automakers report sales later Friday. The figures so far indicate that Americans bought new vehicles at a strong pace last month, as the industry remains a bright spot in a tepid U.S. economic recovery.
“The sales pace we saw in the fourth quarter of last year rolled into January, exceeding our expectations for the industry,” Bill Fay, Toyota Division group vice president, said in a statement.
Chrysler estimates that total U.S. industry sales hit an annual rate of 15.5 million in January. If that holds for the rest of the year, automakers will sell 1 million more vehicles than in 2012, when sales rose 13%.
Analysts are expecting sales for all of 2013 to reach 15 million to 15.5 million. Although still far from the recent peak of about 17 million in 2005, the industry could sell a whopping 5 million more cars and trucks than it did in 2009, the worst year in at least three decades.
At Ford, the growth was led by the Fusion midsize car, which saw a 65% increase, and Explorer SUV sales rose 46%.
U.S. auto sales for 2012 to be announced later this week are a shoo-in to be the best since 2007, and more than 1.5 million units higher than 2011.
According to Forbes, the good news is that the downsized domestic car companies – the Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors – are far more profitable at total U.S. industry sales of 14.5 million than they were before the recession, at an average sales rate of more than 16 million.
The bad news is that it could be another couple of years before U.S. auto sales top 16 million again, analysts said.
The car companies are expected to announce U.S. auto sales on Jan. 3 for the month of December 2012 and for the full year.
Forecasts for full-year 2012 auto sales average out at around 14.5 million cars and trucks, up 13% from around 12.8 million in 2011. That’s according to Peter Nesvold, New York-based analyst for Jefferies & Co. Inc.
That makes 2012 the best year since 2007. In only 11 months of 2012, U.S. auto sales already topped all of 2011.
Despite the improvement, auto sales still have a lot of catching up to do. U.S. auto sales bottomed out in 2009, the year that GM and Chrysler declared bankruptcy.
Sales in 2009 were only 10.4 million. That was the lowest point for U.S. auto sales per capita since World War II.
How low was 2009? Sales were down close to 3 million units from 2008, which was down close to 3 million units from 2007.
What that means is, even after three years of double-digit improvement, 2012 auto sales will still be nearly 1.8 million below 2007, when sales were 16.2 million.
As fewer people bought new cars, the age of the average car on the road has increased to a record high of more than 11 years old, according to the R.L. Polk Co.
It’s going to take years of sales improvements to slow down the rate of increase in that number.
Several automakers on Monday (Dec. 3) reported strong U.S. new-car sales for November as the industry rebounded from a storm-ravaged October while also benefiting from pent-up demand.
Reuters reported that Ford Motor Co. posted better-than-expected sales and Chrysler Group LLC, Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. also saw strong increases that industry executives said should continue through the end of the year.
“We are expecting a strong December as the industry continues to recover from the East Coast hurricane,” Chrysler U.S. sales chief Reid Bigland said in a statement.
However, sales for General Motors Co. came in short of expectations. The No. 1 U.S. automaker said it benefited less than its rivals from the November recovery after superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast.
Auto sales are an early indicator each month of U.S. consumer demand.
Several analysts expect the industry’s overall U.S. sales of new cars and trucks to rise 11% to 13% in November, with the annual selling rate for the month finishing in the range of 14.7 million to 15.3 million vehicles. Ford expects sales in November to rise about 10 percent, while GM sees an annual sales rate of 15.3 million.
Superstorm Sandy hurt the last few days of sales in October, which finished below expectations. In addition, the average age of cars on the road has risen to just above 11 years old, and industry officials say that will continue to drive demand.
Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president of U.S. sales operations, said the auto industry is clearly heading this year toward the high end of the company’s forecasted range of 14 million to 14.5 million. Many analysts expect the industry to finish 2012 with 14.4 million sales, which would be the strongest year since 2007’s 16.1 million.
“Exactly how much growth we can expect next year will depend in part on how Congress and the president resolve the fiscal cliff issue,” McNeil said in a statement. “Consumers hate uncertainty, so an agreement on ways to reduce long-term federal budget deficits could remove an impediment to growth.”
Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said he sees a continuation of a steady recovery for the economy as well as auto sales in December and into early 2013, but expressed concern about the negative impact on consumer confidence if the “fiscal cliff” occurs. VW brand sales rose more than 29%.
Ford’s November sales rose 6.5% to 177,673 vehicles, better than even some of the most optimistic forecasts for the No. 2 U.S. automaker. In a more positive sign for consumer demand, Ford’s retail sales rose 12%.
The company had its strongest small-car sales for the month in 12 years. Demand for Ford’s popular F-150 full-size pickup truck increased 17%, while GM’s rival Chevrolet Silverado pickup saw sales drop 10%.
Ford said it planned to build 750,000 vehicles in North America in the first quarter, which would be an 11% increase from 2012.
GM’s sales rose 3% to 186,505 cars and trucks, below what several analysts had expected. The company said the average price paid per vehicle rose $750 from last year.
Industry research firm TrueCar.com estimated that the industry’s average vehicle selling price in November rose 1.1%, or $335, from last year and a similar amount from October to $30,832.
Chrysler, majority owned by Fiat, said sales rose 14% to 122,565 cars and trucks, its strongest result since 2007 before a recession pushed the U.S. automaker and GM into bankruptcy.
Toyota’s sales rose more than 17% to 161,695 vehicles, while Nissan’s sales rose a stronger-than-expected 13% to 96,197 cars and trucks.
Hyundai said sales increased 8% to 53,487 vehicles, the company’s all-time high for the month. It was the first sales results since the South Korean automaker and its Kia affiliate announced they had overstated the fuel economy ratings by at least a mile per gallon on more than 1 million recently sold vehicles.
Chrysler had its best October in five years as sales for the month rose 10% despite the loss of three days of business on the East Coast from the storm.
The company said Thursday (Nov. 1) that it sold 126,000 cars and trucks for the month, led by the Ram pickup, which was up 20%, and the Dodge Caravan minivan, which saw sales rise 49%.
At Ford, sales were up only 0.4% to 168,000 cars and trucks. But the company said F-Series pickup trucks, the most popular vehicle in the nation, had their best October in eight years with sales up 8% to just over 56,000.
Sales at General Motors were up 4.7% for the month, and Toyota sales rose 15.8%.
The results showed that Americans continue to buy new cars and trucks at a strong pace. The company predicted an annual sales rate of 14.7 million for the overall industry in the United States in October, making it one of the year’s strongest months. Auto sales ran at an annual rate of 14.3 million through September.
Hurricane Sandy could cut sales by 1% to 3%, or about 20,000 vehicles, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm. Schuster said any lost sales would probably shift to November, increasing totals for that month.
Sales have been recovering from a 30-year low of 10.4 million in 2009, when credit froze, unemployment leapt and few people were buying cars. But the numbers are still far short of the recent peak of around 17 million in 2005. Analysts predict the country could reach 15 million in sales next year, which they consider about normal.
Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG’s VW brand continued to post robust U.S. sales increases while deliveries at General Motors Inc. and Ford Motor Co. were flat in September, a month that is expected to generate more steady gains for the industry.
The Associated Press reported that Toyota said combined sales at Toyota, Lexus and Scion jumped 42%. It was the second consecutive month deliveries rose 40% or more as the automaker continues to rebound strongly from last year’s earthquake in Japan.
Volkswagen reported sales at the VW brand climbed 38% and boasted it expects to continue to outperform the industry during the fourth quarter.
Detroit’s two biggest automakers cited lower truck volume — a traditional stronghold — for sales that were down less than a percent at Ford and up just 1.5% at GM. The results will likely mean more market share losses for the companies.
Chrysler Group posted a 12% rise in U.S. sales last month, helped by a 27% increase in car deliveries and big gains at the Fiat and Dodge brands. Hyundai brand sales rose 15% to 60,025 last month, marking its biggest gain since February, according to a Twitter post by CEO John Krafcik.
Other automakers are scheduled to release September sales figures later today. The early results signal the industry continues to rebound despite mixed economic reports, high gasoline prices, sluggish job growth and the prospect of deep cuts in federal spending.
“The industry is on plan, Ford is on plan, and we’re looking forward to a really good fourth quarter,” said Ken Czubay, head of U.S. marketing, sales and service for Ford.
After tracking well for so many months, the hugely promising 2012 auto sales recovery has leveled off — and appears unlikely to regain momentum before year end.
What’s the lowdown on the slowdown?
Automotive News reported that pent-up demand and an aging used-vehicle fleet kept August new-vehicle sales afloat, executives and analysts say. But weak economic fundamentals have the market in a rut — stuck at a 14 million annual pace.
“We’re not seeing upward spikes,” said Kelley Blue Book analyst Alec Gutierrez.
In an outbreak of cautiousness, three forecasters have cut sales outlooks for the year.
Consumer confidence is the missing element.
“People want a reason to commit to a new car, but there’s still some economic skittishness,” said George Borst, CEO of Toyota Financial Services.
Executives don’t expect much traction until passing political roadblocks. The November election is first. Then massive tax hikes and federal spending cuts automatically kick in Jan. 1, unless a deadlocked Congress can agree on legislation to alter or prevent them.
Jim O’Sullivan, Mazda’s top U.S. executive, says Europe’s economic crisis and uncertainty about how Washington policymakers will navigate the fiscal cliff is weighing on consumers.
“Let’s just say I’m guardedly optimistic about the back half” of the year, he said.
Forecasters put the August sales pace in line with the past five months. TrueCar.com sees the seasonally adjusted annual rate at 13.9 million, the same as in May. At the high end of five forecasts, LMC Automotive says 14.5 million.
The year started strong. January was the first 14 million SAAR since cash for clunkers and February’s rate rose to 14.5 million.
Automotive News reported that sales this year are substantially better than 2011’s 12.8 million units and are on pace for a third straight year of improvement.
“It’s being driven by lingering pent-up demand,” said Gutierrez, who expects August’s sales pace to hit 14.4 million. “But … there’s still a lot of uncertainty.”
The election is a big reason for that, says Toyota Financial’s Borst.
“Come November, there is going to be clarity in the direction the country is going to go,” he said.
But TrueCar.com analyst Jesse Toprak said consumer and business uncertainty over Congress is an even bigger drag on sales than the presidential contest.
“Congressional performance affects everything,” he said “The ability to lend, consumer comfort, business investment and hiring. It has an overarching effect on the economy and car sales.”
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Consumers flocked to car dealerships last month as they scrambled to replace gas-guzzling vehicles with more efficient cars, encouraged by a strengthening economy, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
“The combination of credit availability, an improving economy, pent-up demand and even high fuel prices encouraging people to acquire newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles are all helping to drive industry sales,” said Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s U.S. sales chief.
Chrysler Group said its U.S. sales rose 34% in March to 163,381 vehicles compared with the same month a year ago. It was Chrysler’s best monthly sales in four years.
Analysts believe that by the time all the automakers report Tuesday (April 3), the industry will have logged sales of about 1.5-million cars in March, more than it has in any month since 2007.
That’s prompted auto analyst Jesse Toprak of TrueCar.com to raise his annual sales forecast to 14.5-million vehicles, which would make 2012 the best year since 2007, when Americans purchased 16.3-million autos.
An improving job market and the rally on Wall Street are providing buy signs for consumers, he said.
“Look at the stock market. There is a strong correlation between the Dow Jones industrial average and car sales. It is like a green light for car purchases,” Toprak said.
Easier credit is also helping people to purchase cars.
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For automakers, 2012 looks like it will be better than expected — at least in the U.S.
USA Today reported that U.S. consumers are on pace to buy about 1.4 million new cars and trucks in March, or about 6% more than in the same month last year. That would put the industry on pace to sell 14.1 million for the year, which is higher than most industry analysts expected at the start of 2012, when they were predicting sales of less than 14 million.
“Results for the first quarter of 2012 suggest that the year will be better than current expectations,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive. In March, LMC Automotive is predicting an annualized selling rate of 14.1 million cars and trucks.
That’s lower than the 15.0 million rate for February, but would be the third-straight month above 14 million.
But Schuster says the real test for the industry will come over the spring and summer. That’s when gas prices will test consumer confidence and as policymakers in Europe try to contain that continent’s debt crisis.
On Thursday, the average price for a gallon of gas was $3.88, or 33 cents higher than a year ago, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report.
Higher prices aren’t hurting auto sales yet, Schuster said, but they are affecting what people are buying.
Through the first 18 days of March, subcompact and compact cars accounted for approximately 23% of retail sales in the U.S.
USA Today reported that over the last 18 months, almost every automaker has introduced a new or redesigned compact car, and the industry overall is offering features on those cars previously reserved for larger cars.
Examples include the Chevrolet Cruze, Fiat 500, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Hyundai Elantra and Veloster.
“I think the styling in many cases is more appealing and the content has increased,” Schuster said.
Today, consumers can choose from 41 small car models in the U.S. market compared with just 30 back in 2007.
The U.S. housing market, meanwhile, is only starting to show signs of a recovery, which means pickup sales are unlikely to outpace industry growth.
With higher gas prices, and more choices, the overall share of small cars in 2012 could climb to its highest level ever, at nearly 20% of industry sales, Schuster said.