By on April 2, 2019

2019 Ram Power Wagon

Talking heads have been warning for days that the auto industry should prepare itself for a rougher than usual ride in 2019, speculating that sales for the first quarter would be softer than what we’ve seen in past years.

This proved to be true, as players such as the Detroit Three, Nissan, Toyota, and Mazda all conspired to drag the industry down by just over three percent compared to this time last year. Fortunes were better at places like Kia, Hyundai, and Honda, each of whom recorded jumps in volume – two of them quite healthy.

A caveat, before diving into the numbers. You’ll recall that General Motors decided to stop releasing sales numbers on a monthly basis some time ago, shifting instead to a quarterly report. Ford followed suit and, in an infuriating turn, is not announcing its numbers until their Thursday earnings call. The stats here from the Blue Oval are sourced from Automotive News, who do not list the numbers as estimates.

Proving that it is tough to maintain a torrid sales streak, the almighty Jeep brand posted a double-digit dip in March, dropping 11.2 percent to 87,328 units. This number is nothing to sneeze at, and the brand isn’t in trouble by any stretch, but it does put an exclamation point on the stellar results it posted each month in 2018. Demand for the then-new JL Wrangler likely had a great deal to do with this. Ram continues to drive through walls, up 15.5 percent; producing both the new and old pickup side-by-side is paying dividends.

As a brand, Toyota was off by 3.5 percent, where a 1.5 percent rise in light truck volume was scuppered by a 14.2 percent drop in car sales.

“Light trucks and SUVs continue to lead the way for our industry, and Toyota’s Tacoma and RAV4 first-quarter sales results are a reflection of the strong consumer appeal of these vehicles,” said Jack Hollis, group vice president and general manager, Toyota division. In a poke at Ford, he went on to say “While some of our competitors are abandoning sedans, we remain optimistic about the future of the segment.”

I do love a good bit of OEM smacktalk. By the way, the old-as-rocks Tacoma continues to sell like proverbial hotcakes, posting its best-ever March and marking 17 consecutive months of year-over-year gains.

Nissan also posted a loss, with volumes of nameplates like the Titan and Rogue drying up to the tune of double digit drops. The former is likely due to decreased demand, now that some truck buyers who wanted the newly-redesigned Titan have gotten one, while the latter could be a victim of Nissan’s renewed effort to kick the fleet habit.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi (yes, Mitsubishi) posted its best month since the halcyon days of The Fast and the Furious and underglow body kits. VW can boast of its 14 percent gain, achieved not just on the back of increased crossover/SUV sales but also on an eight percent jump in car volume as the snazzy new Jetta recorded an excellent month.

Pundits speculate that 2019 will see the industry drop below 17 million units for the first time since 2014. They’re probably not wrong. Average transaction price in March hovered around $36,700, which is a number driven by high-zoot pickups, unsurprisingly. The average rate on a new vehicle note was (gulp) 6.36 percent because, according to Edmunds, only four percent of deals last month had zero percent interest rates. Yikes.

Check back for further analysis later in the week.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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45 Comments on “U.S. Auto Sales, Q1 2019: Plenty of Red, Plus a Few Bright Spots...”


  • avatar
    DenverMike

    No auto journos will say it, and the automakers don’t want to hear it, but it’s just blowback against new cars and their built-in obsolescence. Every year both will continue to get worse. What’s an 8 or 10-speed transmission gonna cost, out of warranty?

    Those needing to drive to get around have the money but there’s never been a better time to get something used, keep what you already have, or even “resto-mod”!

    In an “unrelated” topic, the aftermarket parts industry is growing exponentially.

    It’s easier to explain with pickups. Yes the high-zoot trucks are strong sellers, but it could be much better. Owners are gladly pouring big bucks into 10, 15, 20 year old pickups, no problem. Would they buy a $30K “turnkey”, restored cosmetically/mechanically plus upgrades/bulletproofing, even if it BlueBooks for just $15K?
    You betcha!

    Also part of the problem and frustration is inflation, which doesn’t hit the used car market quite as much. Or at all.

    • 0 avatar
      CKNSLS Sierra SLT

      Quote”No auto journos will say it, and the automakers don’t want to hear it, but it’s just blowback against new cars and their built-in obsolescence. Every year both will continue to get worse. What’s an 8 or 10-speed transmission gonna cost, out of warranty?”

      You could say the same things about all the new tech that has come out in vehicles in the last 50 years. This includes ABS, Airbags, Energy absorbing bumpers, fuel injection,etc. The argument about “built in obsolesce” needs to be put behind the barn and shot. The average car on the road is 15 years old.

      With all due respect-your argument is usually reserved for someone that can’t afford a new car to begin with.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        When you judge a person’s net worth by what they drive, you’re either 12 years old, and or haven’t a clue.

        Call it what you want, but “new cars” just aren’t in demand like they used to be, nor a necessity. Automakers know it, don’t want it to be talked about, written about, blogged, etc.

        Yeah things are different today. Carbs, points, etc, are long history.

        A clean 20 year old car or truck with low miles will last you easily another 20 with normal care. The more mainstream the better, but aftermarket parts availability has never been better, or cheaper.

        The internet will hold your hand through most any repair or upgrade.

        Obviously the more classic or Hot Rod (Cobra Mustang, 3000GT, Supra, MR2, Lightning or SRT pickup, NSX, Corvette, etc, use your imagination) the better.

        Yeah having a brand new car is awesome to a degree, but I’ve never had a new car for the sake of “having a new car”. And I’ve always paid cash, even though the financial analytic Nazis around here will have my hide.

        • 0 avatar
          Detroit33

          Denver, sorry but the data doesn’t support your argument that new cars aren’t in demand like they used to be:
          2018 17.270.000
          2017 17.241.387
          2016 17.547.028
          2015 17.470.659
          2014 16.531.070
          2013 15.582.136
          2012 14.492.398
          2011 12.778.885
          2010 11.589.844
          2009 10.431.510
          2008 13.245.718
          2007 16.154.064
          2006 16.560.989
          2005 16.997.203
          2004 16.913.361
          2003 16.675.648
          2002 16.817.550
          2001 17.122.369
          2000 17.349.755
          1999 16.893.538
          1998 15.543.007
          1997 15.121.721
          1996 15.097.182
          1995 15.862.000
          1994 15.196.000
          1993 14.679.000
          1992 13.514.000
          1991 12.301.399
          1990 13.774.884
          1989 14.501.107
          1988 15.418.018
          1987 14.870.725
          1986 15.942.332
          1985 15.359.805
          1984 14.306.000
          1983 14.278.000
          1982 10.538.362
          1981 10.777.980
          1980 11.443.613
          1979 14.153.000
          1978 15.423.000
          1977 14.858.000
          1976 13.291.000
          1975 11.102.000
          1974 11.541.000
          1973 14.573.000
          1972 13.570.000
          1971 12.338.000
          1970 10.210.000
          Source: any internet search

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Would you look at your own data? Sheesh, demand has stalled out at 17 mil for the last 5 years and dipping.

            Automakers are worried for good reason.

          • 0 avatar
            tomLU86

            Denver Mike is onto something.

            Your sales figures seem close, but perhaps are off, since I KNOW that 1973 was over 15 million units, and 15M was not surpassed until 1986 (OK, maybe 1985).

            What was America’s population in 1973? Between 202 and 227 million, I’m guessing 210. What is it now? about 315 million. Are we seeing 22 million in sales? NO. Lots of reasons, but I can play with statistics also.

            Regarding tech…ABS became ubiquitous over time. ABS is a HUGE improvement for the average driver, so it is money that I can justify.

            I personally don’t like automatics. Nonetheless, they make life easier. Most people voted that they prefer automatics. OK then. The 4 speed auto was noticeable improvement over the 3 speed auto, for very little cost. The 6 speed was an improvement over 4 speed, but the cost hit is more significant.

            Now, how much benefit is an 8-speed or 10-speed auto in the real world? VERY little. What’s the cost hit? I bet the cost increase is greater than it was to go from 4 to 6 speed auto.

            Stop/start…there’s a technology that annoys many people. It’s not free, and I’m sure your battery will need to be replaced more often. More cost.

            A lot of these gadgets are adding incrementally less, but their cost is not insignificant.

            These touchscreens, which I hate because they require me to take my eyes off the road for simple tasks, they cost more, I am sure. And I can’t get away from them.

            And we have to eat it.

            So Denver Mike is onto something. Especially for people who view trucks as appliances.

            A rust-free, 1990s GM or Ford truck with fuel injection, is in at least ONE way a better TRUCK (box is lower and easier to access). It has a 4-speed auto, (or manual if you want), and it will have many fewer things to fix. I’d rather pay $15k for a low mileage clean 1990s/ early 2000s truck, than a new one.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      They won’t say that because it’s not true. If anything, demand is reduced by the fact that new cars last longer on average than ever before. Also, your fears on new tech are baseless. Mopar, for example can sell an 8 speed transmission (depending on application) over the counter with a 3yr/100,000mi warranty for under $2,500.

      Same with the large screen radios that the troglodytes like to crow about. Once the remanufacturers get their hands on them, the replacement cost is reasonable.

      • 0 avatar
        chaparral

        DenverMike,

        It ain’t true, it ain’t true, Linda Lou.

        Automakers’ lifespan requirements in durability tests have roughly doubled since 2000. That’s because repair costs these days are so high relative to the costs of improving product quality that the OEMs are spending their money with the suppliers rather than with the dealer mechanics.

        The little 1.5T-2.0T engines are all 300kmi powerplants – and I am not being manufacturer-specific. If an OEM has to eat an engine swap under the 8-year emissions warranty, they lost money on having built and sold that car, due to the high cost of the engine and the labor to swap it.

        I’ll even put my money where my mouth is on a ToddAtlasF1 challenge – put stickers on 100 engines at dealerships with his shop’s phone number and instructions to call if the engine is rebuilt or replaced, and if in ten years we’ve gotten three calls, I lose.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        I don’t know if they’re “too good”, and it’s too early to tell with the current batch. With at least a couple dozen processors onboard, I’d stick to the mainstream autos, in case no one is repopping the units for your 2019, in 10 years or more. Not that anyone plans on keeping anything 2019 much beyond the warranty period.

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          DenverMike and TomLu86,
          I don’t think you’re allowed to talk about “unmet needs” since automakers generally suck at portfolio planning and market analysis. It is easy to focus on the 17.3M people who are your current customers and ignore the ~309.9M people who aren’t.

          Hey OEM’s,
          Some of those 309.9 million are adults who drive who have money to spend who don’t like your current offerings for some reason(s). But don’t bother asking why – there’s probably no opportunity there.

          Matthew,
          Good analysis – thank you.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        The problem is no matter how great they’re making them now, the ones from 2004/5 or just a few years ago are better in many way.

        If the 2019s are so awesome, I’ll get yours a few years or more, or when ever you just gotta have the next latest and greatest. If you’d just admit you never want to open any hoods, hit the parts store, etc, that fine too.

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          I’m sure people in 2004/05 were complaining about how cars were better in 1990 because they had less to go wrong, were cheaper/simpler, etc. And how they couldn’t wait to buy yours in a few years once it depreciated.

          Count me in the camp that says cars have never been better. Are there trends or features that are annoying or useless to me? Of course, and there always will be. To me, that doesn’t outweigh the fact that pretty much anything new will provide 250K miles of service with reasonable care, that 300+ horsepower is so commonplace as to be unremarkable, that corporate fuel economy has never been higher, and that all this costs the same or less in inflation adjusted dollars as the so called glory days of previous decades.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            I see your point, but the early 90’s is when cars and trucks/pickups started getting good. All had fuel injection, overdrive, airbags, ABS, good AC, reliable, simple, etc. By 2004/5 the used vehicles you wanted were still fairly expensive, and there wasn’t a healthy glut of them on the market yet.

            Mexico closed off the USA used car (and failed smog) “sanctuary” in 2005, and no more “open imports”. That damaged USA used car prices, especially everyday sedans.

            Despite inflation, the 10 to 15 year old cars and trucks costs you about the same in 2004/5 as 10 to 15 year old cars and trucks cost you now.

            Mexico had continued allowing “pickups” of any vintage, up to 25 years old to be imported into the country (legally), but that ended last year. Next, the resale value of used pickups is going to drop significantly, thank god (and thank Trump).

            We used to lose up to a million used pickups to Mexico annually.

  • avatar
    Unionwolf

    “mItsUbiSHi DEatH WAtcH”

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      I think Mitsubishi is finishing the scene with Sir Lancelot’s squire.

      “I’m not quite dead yet.”

      “Actually, I think I might pull through.”

      “I think I’m all right to come along, sir.”

    • 0 avatar

      Given their limited product portfolio the 36% increase is amazing. Also amazing in my metro area 3 new Mitsubishi dealers have opened in the last year. They really are growing. Even more incredible I know 2 people who have bought new eclipse cross and neither is credit challenged in fact both would be considered upper middle class women. Not sure the reasons why but it does seem to have an attraction not readily apparent to car guys.

      • 0 avatar
        ThirdOwner

        Japan-made, 10 year warranty and a knowledge base from all kinds of off-road and cross-country racing events to design their AWD systems. Why shouldn’t their vehicles be attractive?

        The only reasons I see are odd styling, limited model range and a lack of cachet in North America.

        I’m considering buying one for myself (Outlander GT).

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        The Mitsubishi dealer that was near me closed late last year, which made me sad because I liked looking at those oddball Mirages. It turned into a used car lot but they still service Mitsubishi. They also own a Subaru dealer that shares parking lots. Quite the contrast in sales between those two brands.

        But it’s good that Mitsubishi is actually increasing in sales, always good to have more choice. I considered an Outlander Sport last year but couldn’t deal with the terrible fuel economy.

  • avatar
    ect

    VW seems to have had a very strong month, up 8%. Presumably this is Atlas/Tiguan driven?

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      ect – you are probably correct. Atlas and Tiguan sales increased by about 6000 units over February 2019.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      They sold 9105 Jettas, 7381 Atlas, and 11805 Tiguan.

      The whole Golf family was down to 1001 units and the Passat only sold 2762.

      So it was mostly the Jetta and the SUVs that helped them in March.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Mitsubishi is up 37% Whaaat? Best March since 2004.

  • avatar
    Lefty54

    Mazda down 19% Ouch. Why can’t they sell their vehicles?

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    Is anyone ever going to tell Matthew Guy that the ‘old as rocks’ Toyota Tacoma was all new in 2016? The last one was crushing the competition for its entire eleven model year run, so a Tacoma in it’s forth model year is hardly obsolete.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The “All New” 2016 Tacoma was just a re-skin.

    • 0 avatar

      I actually like the Tacoma but calling it all new was like calling the ram van all new in 1998. Really the last all new Tacoma was 2005 they have kind of just kept doing refreshes since then.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        It has a new frame, a new body, a new V6, a new automatic transmission and changes to practically everything else. What is it missing to make it new? Personally, I preferred the old one, but the one on the lots today isn’t it.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          If it’s new enough for you, that’s all that matters. But if the “new” cabs, doors, seats (individually or together) will bolt up, and can be used on the “old trucks”, it’s the same old truck.

          But Frames don’t define a “platform” either. It’s the spacial orientation/location of engine/trans mounts, suspension, gas tank, steering, wiring looms, brake master/booster, fire wall, etc.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’ve recently recommended a few Mitsubishis to people. I’m guessing word of ajla’s approval got out.
    So you’re welcome, MM.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    A > 3% drop is significant. Also of note is that “Detroit 3” continue to lose market share, within declining market (not good)

  • avatar
    ajla

    The mid-size truck segment is on fire. Year-to-date the Frontier up 46%, Colorado up 16%, Tacoma up 10%. Early results on the Ranger look good and the Gladiator will be out soon. Even the Pilotamino was flat instead of down.

    And it isn’t just percentage gains either. Total volume is looking good too. The Colorado is shaping up to be GM’s 4th best selling vehicle overall this year (behind the two full-size trucks and the Equinox). With the current trajectory, there’s a real possibility that the Tacoma will outsell the *Camry* within the next 2 years.

    It’s impressive considering that the players here are very old (Frontier), not engineered for North America (GM twins, Ranger), or not engineered to be a truck in the first place (Ridgeline, Gladiator). I’d expect there’s a lot of future investment being planned here.

  • avatar
    redapple

    GGM is down 8.3%. Worst in the industry.
    Why? They have so much new product – near top of class product, i m surprised.
    I m no GGM fan and do not wish them good, but this is not logical.

    H/K products -look- good but fail over the long term. Their sales soar. (rapid depreciation over honda toyota, high recalls, rapid interior decay, goofy driving dynamics). Illogical.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Maybe the people who were still buying GM’s stuff were doing it under the belief it was a patriotic act and they can no longer reconcile that belief with GM’s efforts to induce a recession by laying off their US workforce and bringing everything in from Mexico and China. Meanwhile, the globalists’ fodder will continue to buy Subarus to put their bumper stickers on.

      • 0 avatar
        bullnuke

        I applaud the globalists’ fodder for buying vehicles from a company that assembles the vast majority of all their automobile products in Indiana (albeit without the assistance of organized labor) and sources a large portion of the required components from areas near that plant. Those bumper stickers, though, are likely from outside the US border and those folks applying these to their vehicles should be shunned.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Random musings:

    Can Subaru do any wrong?

    How P.O’d are the folks who were instructed to or ‘else’ by the factory to build stand alone facilities.. Mini and Fiat? I bet by now the or ‘else’ is looking pretty attractive compared to the red ink they are surely bleeding.
    Probably time to talk to Mitsubishi, an old repurposed Mini dealership would certainly be a step up for 90% of the Mitsu stores out there.

    I think McLaren sells most of their cars here in Denver. Sighting them on the street with a ‘happy tag’ is almost as common as a Subaru STI with dark windows and vape smoke leaking out the window seals.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Chevy Trax up 20% for Q1!

    This has to be a sign of the apocalypse.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    If you want Rolls Royce exclusivity for beer money – Smart has your car.

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