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March U.S. Auto Sales Cool despite Rebates, Truck Demand

March U.S. Auto Sales Cool despite Rebates, Truck Demand

By Philly Murtha, April 03, 2017

In March, U.S. new-vehicle sales rallied for only a few brands, failing to live up to expectations from earlier in the month. Total new car and light-truck deliveries didn’t quite meet forecasts, including a mid-month projection from J.D. Power and auto forecasting partner LMC Automotive that predicted March sales would improve slightly from last year, primed by beefy incentives. When the pollen settled, March auto sales totaled about 1.56 million units, down more than 1 percentage point from March 2016.

General Motors (GM) (+1.6%) was the only Detroit-based automaker to post a year-over-year gain, while Nissan North America (Nissan) (+3.2%) was the lone Asian multi-brand automaker to celebrate a March record. Europe’s BMW, Daimler AG, and Volkswagen Group all saw slightly better sales compared with March 2016. However, many majors—Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), Ford Motor Co. (Ford), American Honda (Honda), Hyundai Motor (Hyundai), and Toyota Group (Toyota), respectively—posted declines.

Lumbering sales were reported by Ford (-7.5%) and FCA (-5%) in March, even with higher demand for some of their SUVs and pickup trucks. Nissan was Japan’s star, while Toyota (-2%) and Honda (-0.7%) posted slimmer deliveries. South Korea’s Hyundai (-11.2%) also posted weaker totals.

European auto brands gained a little vigor in the U.S. market. Volkswagen Group (+2.6%) continued to recover in the aftermath of diesel emissions violations and BMW of North America (BMW) (+3.5%) posted the best total among all premium automakers for the month. Daimler Group’s (+2%) main Mercedes brand (+3.3%) also improved. As in February, all three independents—Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Subaru—posted year-over-year gains, with rising demand for their SUVs.

Highlights: March 2017 Auto Sales

Following are March 2017 new-vehicle sales highlights (based on actual totals) for each major automaker:

American Honda Motor Co.—Sales at Honda (-0.7%) dipped to 137,227 units. Honda brand (+1.8%) sales rose slightly to 125,531 new vehicles, but totals could not offset Acura’s (-21.2%) fall-off to 11,696 units, even with a glimmer for the MDX. In the Honda lineup, the CR-V and HR-V small SUVs were stellar performers with momentum from the new Ridgeline (3,778 units). The compact Civic sold nearly 32,000 copies, while Fit sales rose.

BMW of North America—BMW (+3.5%), including its Mini small car brand, sold 36,002 units. BMW brand (+3.3%) was the March premium brand leader with 31,015 unit sales. On the car side, 7 Series sales rose 10% although volume was driven by X3 and X5 SUV totals. Mini’s (+4.7%) contribution was 4,987 unit sales.

Daimler AG—Sales at Daimler AG (+2%) improved to 32,352 units with Mercedes-Benz (+3.3%) turning in 29,052 unit sales. The C-Class (+20.5%) dominated volume. The E-Class (+14.5%) and GLE (+4%) also excelled. Van sales (-6.5%) totaled 2,871 units and Smart (-18.8%) delivered only 389 units.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles—FCA US (-5%) deliveries fell to 190,254 units last month despite strength from Ram trucks (+6%) and Dodge (+10%), which had four major performers—Caravan, Journey, Challenger, and Viper. Jeep (-11%) sales declined even with a boost from the Grand Cherokee (+22%). Chrysler brand (-33%) sales fell the most, but Fiat (-5%) posted good totals for the Fiat 500 and Spider.

Ford Motor Co.—Corporate deliveries at Ford (-7.2%) fell to 236,520 units, partly due to a double-digit drop in fleet sales and lower car deliveries. Ford brand remained the best-selling nameplate in the United States even though brand sales declined 7.5% to 226,696 units. A 10% gain for the best-selling F-Series (81,330 units sold) couldn’t prop up deliveries. Expedition sales surged 42.7% and the small Fiesta saw a 20% increase. Lincoln (-1.5%) sales slipped to 9,554 units with the MKC and Continental providing some strength.

General Motors—March sales at GM (+1.6%) advanced to 256,224 units. Buick (+15.1%) and GMC (+12%) demand accelerated with SUVs. The Encore led Buick’s lineup with a boost from the new Envision. The Acadia had the largest percentage gain in GMC’s lineup. Flagship Chevrolet (-2.2%) delivered 172,458 units and Cadillac (-1.5%) totals dipped from 2016. Top performers for Chevy included the Cruze, Spark, Trax, and Tahoe, with a 14% gain for the Volt and nearly 1,000 Bolts delivered. Cadillac’s XT5 SUV continued to gain momentum.

Hyundai Motor—Deliveries at Hyundai (-11.2%) in March fell to 118,694 units.
The Hyundai brand’s volume sellers were Elantra, Santa Fe, and Tucson. Combined with its new Genesis brand deliveries, Hyundai brand (-8%) sold 69,265 units. Kia brand (-15.2%) sales slumped to 49,429. The only newsmaker was the new Niro hybrid crossover in its second month adding 2,704 incremental deliveries.

Jaguar Land Rover—Jaguar Land Rover (+18.9%) sold 12,918 new vehicles in March. Jaguar sales more than doubled to 4,953 units with accelerated demand for the new F-Pace, while Land Rover (-8.8%) sales dropped to 7,965 units.

Mazda—Mazda (+4.9%) delivered 24,549 units in March, with another great month for the MX-5 Miata (+23.4%) and exponential gains for the new CX-9 SUV.

Mitsubishi—March deliveries for Mitsubishi (+6.2%) totaled 11,766 units with interest in the Outlander.

Nissan North America—Sales at Nissan (+3.2%) rose to 168,832 units, with SUVs and trucks up 26%, setting another record. Nissan brand (+0.5%) sold 150,566 units and its best-selling Rogue SUV (+43%) set a new high mark with 39,512 unit sales. The Pathfinder and Armada posted major year-over-year gains, while sales of the Titan large pickup rose three-fold. On the car side, Maxima and Leaf sales gained traction. Infiniti’s (+32.6%) growth outpaced many other rival premium brands with 18,266 unit sales and a surge for the Q60 plus most of the brand’s premium SUV models (+54.6%).

Subaru—Subaru (+11.3%) posted one of the best increases in March and delivered 54,871 units with records for the Outback, Forester, and WRX/WRX STI.

Toyota Motor Sales—Deliveries for Toyota (-2.1%) dipped to 215,214 units, with Toyota brand (-1.2%) sales off the least to 187,289 units. Lexus (-7.5%) lost momentum and sold 27,935 units. The Camry (-3.6%) still sold 35,648 units and Toyota SUVs—RAV4, Highlander, and 4Runner—reaped gains. The Yaris small car also celebrated double-digit gains, while the Prius fell 19.2%. Lexus SUVs—NX, LX, and GX—posted increases, while all Lexus car models posted declines.

Volkswagen Group—VW Group sales were up 2.7% to 51,156 units. VW brand (+2.7%) posted 27,635 unit sales with increases for the Golf, SportWagen, and Passat. Audi (+2%) delivered 18,705 units, with major sales-volume gains for the Q5, Q3, and the A4. The A3 e-tron also sparked interest. Porsche (+3.6%), with 4,479 unit sales, enjoyed strong demand for the Panamera and Macan.

Volvo—Sales at Volvo (-21.9%) declined in March to 5,356 units.

Additional Research:

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