In The Bleak Midwinter: Detroit's Muscle Coupes Stumble Out Of The Gate In 2017
Across much of the United States, January is not the season for pony car purchases.
In fact, January is not the season for big automotive purchases in general.
Auto sales are at their lowest point in January. The rush to buy and lease vehicles in December, when spending comes naturally and time away from the office is easy to come by, is over. The weather typically takes a turn. Wallets are not flush.
Last month, U.S. auto sales dropped 2 percent from January 2016 levels. Blame a 13-percent passenger car downturn.
But the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger all tanked at a substantially worse rate than the market at large, following up a disappointing 2016 with January results that had better not set the stage for 2017.
Combined, the trio tumbled 36 percent, a total loss of more than 6,700 sales compared with January 2016 (when sales had already slowed compared with January 2015).
We can spread blame across the board in equal measure.
The oldest member of the fleet, Dodge’s Challenger, plunged 40 percent to only 3,393 units. That’s the worst monthly result for the Challenger in three years.
The Chevrolet Camaro, all-new last year but distinctly less common in new sixth-gen form than it was even as an aged fifth-gen model, took a 35 percent dive to 3,588 units. That’s the worst full-month result* for the Camaro since the nameplate returned in 2009.
Even the segment leader, the Ford Mustang, fell 33 percent to 5,046 units, a 27-month low.
Ford doesn’t seem surprised.
“Sports cars like Mustang generally have fairly compressed product cycles,” Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle told TTAC. The sixth-generation Mustang arrived at dealers in the latter half of 2014.
“Early on, we were satisfying a lot of pent-up demand as buyers in this segment tend to wait for the launch of the newest model,” Merkle said. “Last month, we announced the upcoming introduction of the new 2018 Mustang.”
Which makes the next few months a waiting period for Mustang enthusiasts and a slower period for Mustang sales.
The degree to which buyers flock to the refreshed Mustang when the 2018 model arrives — there are significant mechanical upgrades but styling changes that haven’t pleased everyone — will have a real impact on the Camaro, and to a lesser extent, the Challenger.
With the Camaro standing out as the freshest pony car on the block, or perhaps not standing out enough given its evolutionary design changes, Chevrolet still couldn’t manage to unseat the slightly older Mustang from its top-selling perch in 2016, a second consecutive year of victory for the Ford.
General Motors owned that position in the U.S. market for five consecutive years beginning in 2010 and appears increasingly incapable of earning it back. Camaro sales fell 6 percent in 2016 — the Mustang’s decline was admittedly even more significant — and inventories ballooned as customers simply didn’t turn up at dealers in the numbers GM expected.
Heading into the new year, Automotive News said Chevrolet had nearly five months of Camaro supply, or more than 35,000 cars. Ford, with stronger sales, had supply of roughly 30,000 Mustangs on January 1, 2017. Dodge Challenger inventory was up to nearly 21,000 units.
January may be nothing more than a blip on the radar. Indeed, given the small size of the market overall, it is just a blip. But it’s a blip that follows segment-wide declines in eight of the last nine months. This blip is part of a discouraging trend that can’t easily be unsettled.
* Only 614 Camaros were reported sold in May 2009, the abbreviated launch month for the fifth-gen Camaro.
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