5 things we learned from March auto sales – USA TODAY
March was a strong sales, but the year-over-year comparisons are getting tougher, given the momentum built through last year.
Light vehicles sales industrywide in March were up 0.6% from strong March sales a year ago. The seasonally annualized pace of 17.1 million, vs. 16.49 million a year ago.
And buyers’ love for trucks, SUVs and crossovers continued, with those vehicles accounting for 815,079, more than half, of the month’s 1,545,802 total sales. Sales for those vehicles were up 5.3% from the month a year ago, and 11.2% year-to-date vs. last year. Meanwhile, sales of cars were down 4.3% for the month and down 0.2% year to date.
Automakers continued to hold the line overall on sales incentives, with incentive spending by automakers averaging $2,691 per vehicle in March, according to TrueCar, down 1.3% from a year ago, though up a slight 0.4% from February.
“It’s positive that incentives aren’t rising from the year-ago level,” said Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights for TrueCar. “This and steady demand for light trucks means automakers can expect continued revenue gains.”
Other details in the March sales results:
• The average window-sticker gas mileage rating of new vehicles sold in the U.S. in March was 25.4 mpg—up 0.2 mpg from February, according to the University of Michigan Eco-Driving Index calculated by researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle. It’s down, however, by .4 mpg from the peak last August. Overall, vehicle fuel economy is up 5.3 mpg since October 2007 when they first began monitoring.
• The average transaction price in March (what buyers actually paid) was $33,235. That was down 0.3% from February, but up 3.5% from March 2014, according to Kelley Blue Book.
• The leading transaction price gain by category from a year ago was for full-size luxury SUVs/Crossovers, up 12.5% to $70,220, says KBB. Biggest gain by a major maker from a year ago was VW group (includes Audi), up 4.8% to $39,469.
1. As ‘city-SUV’ category takes off, where are Ford and Toyota?
Buick Encore started the mini-SUV avalanche in the U.S. that’s now being joined by the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, and the Ford…uh, what Ford?
Did SUV champ Ford miss the boat? Or does it have something about to pop?
And for that matter, where is Toyota, normally willing to battle in any slice of the market?
The mini-SUV market, vehicles smaller than the likes of Honda CR-V and Ford Escape and fit into tight urban confines — didn’t exist in the U.S. a few years ago, but is expected to grow to millions in just a few years.
2. Top 20: Trucks still ruled but humble Hyundai makes big jump
When it comes to dramatic sales increases, March belonged to the humble Hyundai Elantra. The compact sedan rocketed from 18th on the list of Top 20 best-selling vehicles to eighth with a whopping 33.8% increase over the same month last year, Autodata reports. No mystery, says Hyundai spokesman Jim Trainor, because Elantra was backed in March with a big marketing campaign featuring 0% financing and cash incentives.
Overall, though, the month’s Top 20 showed the usual sales pattern as of late: Trucks and SUVs rule.
3. Mustang proves again that new product moves the sales dial
Proving once again that the key to sales is a hot new model, Ford is finding huge success so far with its new-generation Mustang, while others in the sporty-car category languish.
Ford saw a 36.1% sales increase in March compared to the same month the year before on its new 2015 Mustang, moving 12,663 of them. For the first three months of the year, the increase is even more startling: 52.1% to 29,811, Autodata reports.
At the the same time, Mustang’s archrival, Chevrolet Camaro, saw its sales drop 30.9% in March to 29,811. Camaro is now an aging model, with a replacement not due to be seen until later this year. In past year, before the new-gen Mustang, Camaro often beat the pony car in the monthly rankings.
4. Hot and cold sellers: April could be time to shop for Cadillac ATS, Ford Fiesta
It was hard to find a trend in March’s car sales when looking at total vehicles sold. Instead, scrutinizing the types of cars quickly snapped up by buyers might be a better gauge of what folks really want. SUVs and pickup trucks continued to dominate Cars.com’s our fastest-selling list, with 19 of the 21 cars that sold the fastest being one of those body styles.
The other two? The all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza — and somewhat shockingly — restyled Acura ILX sedan. were the other two.
The Cadillac ATS and Ford Fiesta are among cars we like that are selling slowly enough that dealers will be motivated to discount in April. But expect to pay up if you want one of the new city-size small SUVs.
5. Leasing can be better way to “buy” a car for retirees
As March sales show, leasing is rising and experts say this way of getting a new car could make sense for retirees. Leasing allows lower upfront costs, allowing seniors to keep more of their money in their accounts. They don’t have to worry about repair costs: virtually all are covered under the car’s warranty in the early years. At the end of the term, lessees just hand the car back.
“Maybe you want the simplicity factor,” says Justin Leach, spokesman for Toyota Credit. It’s as easy as driving the car back — “take it in and have them do it.”
And for seniors living on fixed incomes, having the predictable payment of a lease all the way through the term — and knowing that about the only other costs are fuel and insurance — makes budgeting a lot easier, says Mike Money, owner of a Subaru dealership, Money Automotive Group in Salina, Kan.