Ford NASCAR BurnoutFord

  • Automakers will report October US sales on
    Wednesday.
  • The monthly sales pace is expected to be better than
    last year’s final record total of 17.55 million.
  • Profitable pickups and SUVs continue to drive the
    market.

This was supposed to be the year that the US auto sales boom
finally ran out of gas.

After consecutive record-breaking years, with 17.5 million
vehicles sold in 2015 and 17.55 million in 2016, the total in
2017 after a mid-year lag appeared as though it might dip below
17 million. A big drop to 15 million wasn’t in the cards, but the
sales pace fell to around 16.5 million.

Then two hurricanes in a row slammed into Texas and Florida and
sent consumers back to the showrooms to replace destroyed or
damaged vehicles.

But the dynamics of the market also proved more resilient than
expected. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg now expect October US
sales when reported on Wednesday to show a Seasonally
Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) of 17.6 million.

The late surge has caught everyone by surprise. Automakers have
been calling the sales cycle “mature” for almost two years now,
and market observers are now looking at 2017 sales that have an
outside chance of besting 2016’s total for a third record year.

There aren’t enough months remaining for sales to collapse, so
another strong year now seems nearly certain.

The industry overall is happy to see the cycle extended. What’s
selling are pickups and crossovers, highly profitable vehicles
for the automakers. Low-profit small cars have fallen out of
favor, perhaps permanently.

That might sound bad, but it’s actually good. A sales downturn
will arrive at some point, and if carmakers are selling vehicles
with good margins, it won’t matter if they sell fewer of them.