Banking & Finance

As Year Ends, Automakers Can’t Catch Record Numbers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The record number of new cars sold in 2016 proved to be a tough act to follow for the three American automakers as all posted a decrease in sales for 2017.

The final month of the year was also a challenge for the Big Three – Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – as just one, Ford, posted an increase in total sales compared to December 2016.

Two of General Motors’ brands – GMC and Buick – posted gains from December 2016 as 64,146 and 22,285 were sold, respectively, good for an increase of 1.2% and 4.7%. Cadillac sales fell 28.6% to 15,304.

Meanwhile, the company’s top-selling brand, Chevrolet reported a 2.9% decrease in year-over-year sales as 206,804 cars, trucks and SUVs hit the streets last month. The brand’s sales were led by the Silverado with 32,784 sold, followed by the Equinox with 32,7854. The Lordstown-built Cruze was down 22.6% from a year ago with 13,406 delivered to customers.

As a whole, the company wasn’t able to keep up with 2016’s figures as sales dropped 1.3% to 3,002,241. Only one brand, GMC, posted a full-year increase in sales as 560,687 were sold, up 2.6% from 2016. Chevrolet sold 2,065,883 for a 1.5% decrease, while Buick was down 4.5% to 219,231 and Cadillac was down 8% to 156,440.

For the Cruze, full-year sales were down 2.2% to 184,751, good for No. 4 on the brand’s sales chart behind the Silverado, Equinox and Malibu.

Ford Motor Co.’s retail sales – sales made to noncommercial buyers – dropped 4% to 176,164. With fleet sales included, however, the company’s December sales rose 0.9% to 242,049. For full-year sales figures, the company fell short of last year’s total, as 2,586,715 new vehicles were sold in 2017, a drop of 1.1%.

In December, sales of the Ford brand totaled 231,430, a 1.9% climb from last year. The brand was led by the F-series line of pickup trucks, of which 89,385, followed by the Escape with 26,253. Compared to 2016, the brand’s sales fell 1.1% to 2,475,556.

For the Lincoln luxury brand, sales were down 17% as 10,619 cars and SUVs were sold last month. Topping the sales chart was the MKX with 2,976 delivered to customers. In 2017, 111,159 Lincolns were sold, a 0.5% decline from a year prior.

Among Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ American brands, only Chrysler posted a year-over-year increase, coming in 3% ahead as 17,208 vehicles were delivered in December, led by the Pacifica with 11,144. For the year, though, the brand’s sales lagged behind 2016’s numbers as 188,545 were sold in 2017, a 19% drop.

Jeep sales fell 12% for the month to 73,205 – led by the Grand Cherokee with 23,622 – and 11% for the year with 828,522.

Dodge sales in December were down 23% from the year before as 27,885 were sold, include a brand-leading 6,830 Chargers. Full-year figures for Dodge were down 12% from 2016 as 46,996 were sold.

Ram’s sales were down 7% for the month with 49,876 sold, though it was the only FCA brand to post an increase over its 2016 total as 556,790 were sold in 2017, a 2% rise.

While the numbers are down from last year, the results for both December and 2017 as a whole weren’t unexpected. A record number of cars were sold nationwide in 2016, marking seven straight years of gains, and the 2017 numbers were frequently behind the year prior’s.

The slowed pace of sales was noticed early on by automakers, including General Motors, which announced in June that it was slashing its forecast for industry sales from the “mid-17 million” range to the “low-17 million” range.

Two other major auto industry analysis firms, Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book, both projected sales for all three American automakers to drop last month, though their figures varied.

GM was projected to drop 5.5% from December 2016 by Edmunds and 7.9% by Kelley Blue Book (actual, down 3.3%). Ford’s forecast was down 2% (actual, up 0.9%) by Edmunds, 2.4% by Kelley. And FCA was expected to be down 8.2% by Edmunds and 11.7% by Kelley (actual, down 8%).

“Auto sales got off to a sluggish start in 2017 but managed to finish in a fairly decent place,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of industry analysis, in the firm’s monthly projections release. “With sales tapering off, we could be in for a high-stakes incentive war in 2018 as automakers and dealers fight for consumers in a smaller and highly saturated market.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.