By on February 2, 2018

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport and Rogue - Image: Nissan

January started strong for several automakers in America, with the industry shifting 1,157,407 cars and light trucks last month. That represents a 1.2 percent increase over this time last year.

More than one company is guilty of padding its numbers with fleet sales, though. In one instance, it represented nearly a third of January’s reported sales for that automaker.

Combined, Nissan and Infiniti moved 123,538 machines last month, marking a full 10 percent increase over January 2017, thanks to the marque’s portfolio of trucks, crossovers, and SUVs. However, according to Automotive News, fleet deliverers surged 48 percent last month for that automaker, cresting the 40,000-unit mark. Basic math tells us, then, that a full 32.5 percent of Nissan’s reported sales were to fleets. That percentage is even higher if one backs January’s 10,635 Infinitis out of the equation.

To be fair, this could simply be a case of Nissan fulfilling a huge order at the beginning of the year and the remainder of 2018 will have a much heavier weight on retail sales. Toyota also drank from the smoky fleet cup, with nearly 30,000 of its 149,142 units headed to fleet purchasers. That’s still a lot – nearly 70 percent more than January last year, according to Bloomberg – but again may simply be a case of oddly timed shipments to rental agencies. I wouldn’t expect this trend to continue.

The Detroit Three saw retail deliveries fall in January. FCA was down 12.8 percent to 132,803 units compared to the same time last year, as every brand in that house suffered losses except for Jeep which stayed largely flat. Alfa was technically up but that’s thanks to the fact they only sold 108 units in January 2017.

Ford was off by 6.8 percent, recording 154,001 sales at the Blue Oval and 6410 sales at Lincoln. This is being blamed on a near 25 percent drop in car volume and a 12 percent drop in shipments to fleet customers. Using extrapolation, retail sales were off by 4.3 percent at the Glass House compared to last January.

GM was up by 1.3 percent, reporting 198,548 deliveries. Chevy and Buick saw 5 and 4 percent increases, respectively, while the other two brands brought up the rear. However, it’s worth noting that retail deliveries to actual customers were off by 2 percent, so the increases are thanks to – you guessed it – fleet sales, including commercial, government, and rental accounts.

According to J.D. Power (remember them?), the average new-vehicle incentive was $3,733 in the first few weeks of January. Analysts at ALG estimate the average new-vehicle incentive rose nearly 10 percent to $3,812 compared to the same month last year. GM, Ford, FCA, and Nissan were the biggest spenders on spiffs last month.

“Incentives continue to be a struggle, with automakers once again eclipsing the 11 percent mark in incentive spending as a percentage of average transaction price,” said Eric Lyman, ALG’s chief industry analyst.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, then.

[Image: Nissan]

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30 Comments on “Fleet Week: January’s U.S. Auto Sales Buoyed By Fleet Volume...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    How can Mitsubishi be up more than 30%? I know they deal in small volume but they only offer two vehicles. It’ll be interesting to see how long VW stays on the plus size of the ledger.

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis

      VW – the new Atlas and Tiguan made up for falling car sales.

      Mitsubishi – the PHEV Outlander finally arived. Most of the sales gain was due to the OutlanderSport

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “However, it’s worth noting that retail deliveries to actual customers were off by 2 percent, so the increases are thanks to – you guessed it – fleet sales, including commercial, government, and rental accounts.”

    Fleet buyers *are* actual customers, they’re just not individuals.

    Fleet sales don’t concern me one bit. In one way they’re encouraging: fleet buyers aren’t interested in buying unreliable cars.

    My minivan was a rental before I got it, and it’s been great. Fleet cars don’t just disappear into the ether.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I believe the underlying assumption is that there isn’t any real profit in a fleet sale.

      I see certain fleet sales to be an indication of what dealers/manufacturers are willing to “get rid of” for cheap. In my district they’ll put out a spec list and then let dealers bid on it.

      Back during the bankruptcies they picked up several 3 row FWD V6 Journeys. Recently they picked up several end of production first generation GMC Terrain 4 cyl AWD models. Even more recently Jeep Cherokee Sport 4×4 models have been popping up like weeds in the motor pool parking lot.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        Fleet sales especially typical rental fleets don’t hurt car companies at the point of sale. They hurt companies when it comes to used sales due to depressed residual prices. That affects lease values and used vehicle pricing.
        Pickup fleet sales don’t tend to exert the same downward pressure because typical pickup fleets get used hard and that abuse is obvious.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Isn’t it funny how suddenly rental fleet dumps become a good thing when its Toyota and Nissan doing it more than anyone else?

      Amazing.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    All of the decline at FCA was a reduction in fleet sales between Patriot, Journey, 200 and some others. Retail deliveries were actually up 2%.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    I can see Nissan having a huge spike in fleet sales since they now have a viable pickup offering in the new Titan.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Rental car dumping. Isn’t that the first sign of the beginning of how bad it is going to get, for awhile, again?

    If the Altima, Camry and a handful other units don’t sell well at the dealership, foisting them on Avis isn’t going to help the image one bit in terms of new car sales. These units hit the auction block 2 years later for half price, and the dealers selling them new, in a lot of cases, are the ones loading up their used lot with the ‘fleet return’ specials. I understand it from the dealer level, why not? You can make way more dough selling a rental return Camry than a new one, so why bother with the new one? But from the factory perspective it pretty much always leads to short term gain for long term pain.

    I think GM got it right in mid 00’s with rental car only vehicles; Captiva & W-Body Impala.

    As noted above: This was the big 3 SOP for years, scratch that, decades and they were lambasted for it; still are really. Nissan and Toyota do it and they are geniuses? This makes no sense.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      The Camry has been the fleet queen “full sizer” (by rental company standards) for years now, in terms of total numbers (not percentage of sales). 60Kish Camrys goes to rental lots each year.

      The result of this (up until the current redesign) was a decline in Camry ATP to the lowest in the class, yes even below Hyundai and while still being built, yes below the Chrysler 200. Ouch.

      Low ATP is good for moving iron, but not good for long-term profits, and not good for long-term resale. The Camry continues to hold on reputation. We also know that it takes decades for moods to sour, and decades for moods to improve.

      After my rental experience with a RAV-4, I’m completely flummoxed on why anyone would buy one over a CR-V, or just about any other vehicle in the class.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    1. you gotta love Alfa Romeo. No matter how many times they are reported to stall, etc., they are flying off the lots
    2. Kia has sold within 2 units from last year. I call it stable business
    3. My beloved Mazda is up 15. Do people finally realized who makes the best?

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      Their SUVs went up massively – for example the CX5 going from 8 to 13k. CX3 and CX9 also had significant increase compared to January 2017.
      The CX5 is now regularly well over 10,000 compared to the previous generation which rarely reached that level.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Kia was able to do maintain status quo while reducing sales to fleet.

      Mazda has an underappreciated lineup (aside from auto journalists and enthusiasts), but they also are getting a greater supply of their CUVs on the lots (to more than make up for the drop in 6 sales).

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Looks like a massive army of RAV4s and three-row RX Ls is coming to devour everyone else.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      The RAV4s with VINs starting with “JT” are the most sought after, both new and used.

      Based on my own experience with a 1989 Camry V6 and a 2008 Highlander V6 AWD, both with a “JT” VIN, and both with high mileage on them, that they truly are superior builds and run forever.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I see MINI sales are consistently down 5% month-to-month.

    Funny thing at the auto show I went to last night – lots of people sitting and checking out the MINI, but I bet the local dealership didn’t see an uptick in sales.

    As a general note: the muscle and sports cars got the majority of attention at the show, even the old Challenger. People like the dream of having a fast car but not necessarily the reality of it.

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