Brief warming spells between polar vortices and Presidents Day sales boosted sales in February, though rising inventories and incentives raise questions about sales momentum heading into the oncoming spring selling season.
Automotive News reports seasonally adjusted annualized rates of 15.4 million units from TrueCar and Cars.com, and 15.3 million from Kelley Blue Book, up from 15.2 million SAAR projected last month after snowstorms and colder temperatures across most of the country kept consumers out of the showroom.
Meanwhile, fleet sales also took a hit this month, contributing to overall SAAR projections of 15.5 million from Barclays Capital, 15.7 million from LMC Automotive, and 15 million-plus from Wells Fargo Securities. Wells Fargo Securities senior analyst Richard Kwas also estimates March’s SAAR could surpass 16 million units, a figure last seen in August and November 2013, while he and J.D. Power senior vice president of the global automotive practice John Humphrey both believe the negative effects bestowed by winter weather systems earlier in February would be mitigated by stronger push in sales — boosted by Presidents Day promotions — at the close of the month.
Part of that push comes at the heels of more incentives. TrueCar listed increases of 3 percent over January, 5 percent from the same point in 2013, and a year-over-year of 20 percent for Honda, Hyundai/Kia, Toyota and Volkswagen. Ford also boosted their year-over-year to 16 percent, while General Motors and FCA’s Chrysler Group saw their incentive spending fall. Transaction prices also rose this month, with LMC predicting a record average of $29,000 per unit, beating the previous record from last February by over $400 per vehicle.
At the start of February, automakers began with an 88-day supply of inventory, the highest since 2009 when automotive sales collapsed at the start of the Great Recession. LMC expects the inventory should thin by spring — projecting a 16.2 million SAAR for 2014 — though warned production levels could drop if the backlog is still an issue come June, forecasting a 2.5 percent decline in North American production to 16.5 million units.
Even more interesting will be the month of March. It could be the first indicator of over-exuberance about the auto market, or it could be the sign of things picking up after a nasty bout of cold weather.