Detroit Three January 2018 Auto Sales: Trucks Can't Carry It All

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
detroit three january 2018 auto sales trucks cant carry it all

After the industry’s first annual sales decline of the post-recession era in 2017, the small uptick in year-over-year U.S. auto sales in January 2018 shouldn’t be seen as a trend, analysts warn. This year will apparently bring more worry for automakers as buyers plan fewer trips to the dealership.

For the domestic brands, January brought a mixed sales bag. Two members of the Detroit Three posted significant sales declines, while the third squeaking by on the strength of light truck sales. Clearly, having a lineup full of pickups, SUVs, and crossovers helps a company’s bottom line, but it’s no guarantee of ever-higher volume in today’s market.

Superficially, the biggest loser last month was Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which posted a 13 percent year-over-year U.S. sales drop.

Digging a little deeper, we can see a key reason for the loss of volume: fleet sales. In keeping with its bid for a sturdier financial foundation, FCA’s fleet volume fell 50.5 percent in January — a loss of 21,642 low-profit units. By shedding these sales, the company’s fleet mix declined from 28.2 percent of all vehicles sold to 16 percent.

Among the automaker’s many divisions, only Jeep and Alfa Romeo posted a year-over-year sales gain last month. Jeep climbed 2 percent thanks to growth in Compass, Wrangler and Cherokee volume. Meanwhile, Alfa, now with three models in its fold, saw sales grow by 1,426 percent. (This still only amounts to 1,648 vehicles sold.)

Meanwhile, the two-model Chrysler brand fell 21 percent, year over year, joined by losses at Dodge (down 31 percent), Ram (down 16 percent), and Fiat (down 43 percent.)

Ford Motor Company didn’t see a stellar month, but its losses pale in comparison to those at the Lincoln brand. Overall, the automaker saw a 6.6 percent year-over-year sales decline in January, divvied up between Ford (down 5.6 percent) and Lincoln (down 27 percent).

Due mainly to order timing, fleet sales fell 12 percent. That leaves the Blue Oval’s fleet mix at 28.5 percent of overall volume. Sales of all passenger cars, save for the defunct 2017 Fiesta, fell in January, most significantly among traditional sedans. In fact, the only models to see year-over-year increases were the E-Series van and the F-150, the latter of which posted its best January since 2004, with YoY sales up 1.6 percent.

If you’re tallying this up in your mind, yes, the Escape, Edge, Flex, Explorer, and Expedition all posted volume losses compared to last January. Last month was the first time Ford recorded any EcoSport sales, with 500 on the ledger.

The only Lincoln vehicle to not see a steep sales decrease was the redesigned Navigator, with year-over-year volume up 98 percent.

Moving over to the Renaissance Center, it was General Motors’ month to lord over its two rivals. The automaker posted a 1.3 percent year-over-year sales increase in the U.S., spurred on by healthy light truck sales. Fleet volume also increased, with its share of the overall mix rising 2.9 percent to 23.8 percent of all vehicles sold.

What divisions stood out? Chevrolet and Buick, which posted YoY sales increases of 5 and 4 percent, respectively. As buyers await an all-new model, Buick Regal sales fell 40.3 percent, offset by a clearly fleet-fueled 130 percent increase in LaCrosse volume. Enclave sales remained flat, though 13.7 percent more buyers took home an Envision in January.

Growth in Chevrolet volume can be traced back to increased demand for the Trax, Equinox, Tahoe, Traverse, Colorado, and Silverado. Passenger car sales were a repeat of those from other automakers. Trajectory: down, with the sole exception of the all-electric Bolt (up 1.3 percent from last January, when the model was only available in limited markets). Compared to December, Bolt sales fell by nearly half. Blame buyers with one eye on the environment and the other on their taxes.

Increases in sales of the Escalade, XT5, and ATS couldn’t keep Cadillac’s head above water, with that division’s January sales down 3.9 percent, year over year. At GMC, an 11.4 percent sales decline speaks to fewer buyers for the Sierra, Yukon, Yukon XL, and Acadia. The midsize Canyon pickup saw a 5.4 percent YoY increase, and the new-for-2018 Terrain rose 14.2 percent.

[Images: General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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  • CKNSLS Sierra SLT CKNSLS Sierra SLT on Feb 02, 2018

    JustPassinThru There won't be any $50,000 orphans. The latest rumor in Hyundai is in talks to acquire at least RAM/Jeep. These two brands are very enticing for someone to pickup. Of course-if your talking about buying a new Chrysler 300-then I would agree with you.

    • See 6 previous
    • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Feb 05, 2018

      @JustPassinThru Jeep will Survive, but it has a reputation for killing its parent: Willys, Kaiser, AMC, Chrysler Corp. It's in the process of killing off FCA, which now can't survive without it. When the US government stole it from American Bantam, the curse of Jeep began.

  • Mike978 Mike978 on Feb 02, 2018

    Why did Ford's SUVs decline while GMs increase. The market is more CUV heavy now than last January so there should have been flat to growing CUV sales even in a flat market. Bad results for Ford in those segments.

  • Buickman GoneFast.
  • SCE to AUX I sat in a 200 in the showroom, and promptly walked away. The back seat was extremely awkward to ingress/egress, and the car was small inside.Turns out even Sergio agreed, and he was upset about it: attractive exterior hid a terrible car. Those early 9-spd autos were awful.
  • Pianoboy57 I've always thought the 300D was just about the perfect car. Mine would have been green like my current Outback is. Once upon a time there was a Volvo diesel at the nearby BHPH lot. Too bad nobody rescued that one. I did have the privilege of owning a TDI Sportwagen and I would have kept my 02 Passat if it had been a diesel wagon. A few years ago I used to see older TDI Passats for sale on CL by owners who claim to have taken good care of them. Too bad you can't get a diesel in an Outback.
  • ToolGuy "A 920-volt electric system is rumored to enable faster charging times than any EV on sale today." If you can find a compatible charger, that is??• Differing voltage standards -- yet another way to slow down EV adoption.Engineers R Awesome™
  • SCE to AUX "without a must-have feature or selling point, the VF8 won't be top-of-mind for buyers"Yep, that's the problem with any new product, let alone an entire aspiring brand. I think they hoped the battery subscription would be a helpful distinctive, but they discovered that it was a negative instead.Perhaps they got their product launch guidance from Ford.