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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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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.

  • Tassos Jong-iL Electric vehicles are mandated by 2020 in One Korea. We are ahead of the time.
  • 1995_SC Can you still get some of the tax credits under the new program?
  • Analoggrotto HyundaiGenesisKia saw this coming a long time ago and are poised for hybrid and plug-in hybrid segment leadership:[list=1][*] The most extensive range of hybrids[/*][*]Highest hybrid sales proportion over any other model [/*][*]Best YouTube reviews [/*][*]Highest number of consumer reports best picks [/*][*]Class leading ATPs among all hybrid vehicles and PHEVs enjoy segment bearing eATPs[/*][/list=1]While some brands like Toyota have invested and wasted untold fortunes into full range electric lineups HyundaiKiaGenesis has taken the right approach here.
  • EBFlex The answer is yes. Anyone that says no is just….. wrong.But the government doesn’t want people to have that much freedom and the politicians aren’t making money off PHEVs or HEVs. So they will be stifled.
  • Grant P Farrell If you floor it in the new model (the only way to experience the extra horsepower) your not getting anywhere near the best fuel economy. So you can get the same mpg as a 20 year old car, or drive fast but not both at the same time.