GM, Ford sales fall as US autos cool off – USA TODAY
General Motors and Ford Motor posted U.S. sales declines in August as the industry cooled off, fueling a growing perception that the auto industry topped out in late 2015 and early 2016.
Ford Motor’s U.S. vehicle sales fell by 8.4% and GM’s declined by 5.2%, compared with a year earlier, as the auto industry was expected to post a slower month overall. Fiat Chrysler bucked the trend, recording a 3.1% sales increase.
Analysts at Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book had projected an overall auto industry sales decline of 2.5% and 2.1%, respectively, in August.
For Ford, analysts had expected sales declines of 9.8% and 6.8%, respectively. For GM, they were expecting declines of 5.7% and 5.4%, respectively. For Fiat Chrysler, the analysts expected sales increases of 0.6% and 0.2%.
GM’s sales totaled 256,429, with its flagship Chevrolet brand slipping 3.9% to 175,965 units.
Ford’s luxury Lincoln brand was a bright spot for the automaker, posting a 7% increase to 9,243 vehicles sold. But Lincoln makes up a fraction of Ford’s overall sales, which totaled 214,482 for the month.
For Fiat Chrysler, which sold 196,756 vehicles overall, Jeep continued to lead the way. The SUV brand posted an 11.9% increase to 86,468, nearly double the company’s next best-selling brand.
The auto industry has been hovering near 2015’s record pace of 17.5 million vehicles, fueled by strong employment, low gasoline prices and a solid housing market.
But Ford executives told reporters that the company expects industry sales to fall back from early-2016 levels later this year.
“We think sales have reached a plateau and at that plateau we’ll see some month-to-month volatility,” Ford senior economist Bryan Bezold said.
Despite encountering a plateau, profitability remains strong. With gas prices at a national average of $2.22 per gallon on Thursday morning, according to GasBuddy.com, highly profitable pickup trucks, crossovers and sport-utility vehicles are flying off dealership lots. Cars, meanwhile, are slumping as fuel efficiency takes a back seat to comfort.
In fact, small trucks — which include certain crossovers — are the hottest commodity in the business, selling in an industry-best average of 44 days, according to Edmunds. The overall industry average is 75 days.
Compact crossovers gained more than a percentage point in market share, compared with a year ago, to 19.2% in August, according to Kelley Blue Book. By comparison, midsize cars — once the stalwart segment in the industry — held only 12.1% market share in August, slipping by more than 2 percentage points.
But the segment may have stabilized, Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle said.
“Midsize cars appear to have perhaps found a bit of a bottom,” Merkle said in a conference call.
Automakers boosted incentives by 7.7% in August, compared with a year ago, to $3,331 per vehicle, though that was down 2.2% from July. Analysts are watching closely for signs that the industry is turning to discounts to gain market share.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.