By on January 6, 2020

2019 Ram Power Wagon

Many talking heads and auto journos, your author included, theorized the American car market in 2019 would fail to sell in excess of 17 million new vehicles for the first time in several years. However, thanks to a late-year push, a total of 17.11 million copies of fresh metal moved off showroom floors and onto America’s highways.

If you’re keeping count, and many are, this makes for the fifth consecutive year the industry topped the 17 million mark. The only other two calendar years it did so was 2000 and 2001. We can draw these conclusions now that Ford has gotten off its Blue Oval butt and posted its numbers, a full 48 hours after just about everyone else.

Starting with the Detroit Three, sales were down across the board in terms of full-year numbers. Barra’s Bunch was off by 2.3 percent, Hackett’s House slid 3 percent, and Manley’s Machines skidded 1.4 percent. The latter is being carried by Ram trucks, by the way, which was up a gobsmacking 17.7 percent on the year — making it the only FCA brand to post a positive finish to 2019.

This speaks to Ram’s strategy of selling two different Ram 1500 pickups side-by-each. After a slow start, the tactic is paying off in spades, with the “new” truck appealing to customers who want all the latest toys, while the older Classic version is picked up by those seeking a deal. All this comes as the average transaction price of a Ram 1500 has jumped almost 50 percent from 2010 to about $50,000. Meanwhile, the average transaction price for the Ram Heavy Duty has increased more than 20 percent to about $55,000. This speaks to two things: the consumer desire for snazzier trucks and the manufacturer’s thirst for luxurious profits.

Across town, The General shed 66,991 units compared to 2018, which is about the entire yearly Porsche volume, if you’re wondering. GM’s fleet mix was 19.7 percent in the fourth quarter and 21.8 percent for the year, with Commercial and government deliveries making up more than half the company’s fleet sales. Average transaction prices at RenCen were $37,558 in Q4 and a record $36,844 for 2019.

Dearborn-based Ford, a company which finally deemed us slovenly journalists worthy of sales numbers a full weekend after most other brands played by the unwritten rules and released their stats on time, surprised no one by claiming 2019 as the 43rd straight year for F-Series being America’s best-selling pickup. With the addition of Ranger, Ford trucks produced their best sales results since 2005, with a total of 986,097 pickups sold. Lincoln is enjoying a well-earned resurgence — hooray for good product and real names — up by nearly 10,000 vehicles (8.3 percent) last year.

Image: Lincoln

There were some losers last year, most notably Nissan North America, whose volume plunged a shocking 29.5 percent in December before sputtering to a 9.9 percent decline on the year. Product that’s in need of update doesn’t help this scenario, nor does ex-CEO Carlos Ghosn fleeing Japan in a musical instrument box to avoid trial. His press conference scheduled for later this week could do more damage to the company, especially if he starts to name names.

Winners? Well, the VW brand rose 2.6 percent last year thanks in no small part to revised and rejigged products. Subaru continues its sunny ways, setting a new all-time sales record of 700,117 vehicles, up 3 percent over 2018. That number marks eleven consecutive years of the company posting an annual sales record. In other words, it’s a very good time to be slinging the beauty of all-wheel drive.

Those average transaction prices and, according to some talking heads, negative equity levels remain high. But, in December at least, the average interest rate on a new-vehicle loan fell — for the third straight month — to 5.4 percent. That’s the lowest rate in about two years, according to Edmunds.

Did anyone in your circle of family or friends take delivery of a new car in 2019? Sounds off in the comments below.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Lincoln Motor Company]

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35 Comments on “Always Be Closing: U.S. Vehicle Sales Top 17 Million in 2019...”

  • avatar

    Genesis up 105%, very nice.

    Fiat noooooooo.

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis


      Genesis didn’t import any vehicles in most of 2018, and introduced the G70 late in the year. Sales should be up.

    • 0 avatar

      Genesis is small player so variance of its sale numbers is high – it may go down 100% next year as well – difficult to predict, number is too volatile. The shocking is a collapse of Infiniti. It looks like they are becoming a minor player. Mini and Smart follow.

  • avatar

    MINI deathwatch!

    also I thought FCA was doing a littler better than that. But still better (in percentage) than Ford or GM.

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis


      GM & Ford killed off a large number of cars. GM was also on strike for 40 days. Going forward GM & Ford have a number of models with sales still growing and a number of new models coming out.
      FCA is dealing with large inventories and Carlos Traverse is about to take over as CEO. He has a track record of cutting costs cutting models, raising prices and reducing incentives.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, not looking good for MINI. 36K sales divided among 5 body styles and a number of drivetrains is probably not sustainable. Of course the US isn’t their only market, but still, at some point it’s not worth the effort. Too bad, there’s not a lot of fun small cars that let you row your own left.

  • avatar

    Did FCA say how many of the Rams were the previous gen?

    Not that I’m attempting to make an excuse for Chevy dropping to third place, as GM undoubtedly screwed up their re-design. But I am curious as to how the sales compare new-gen to new-gen.

    • 0 avatar

      In my market Ram regularly runs ads which feature the new ram 1500 throughout, then show the lease special for the Classic. Nice bait and switch. Nissan does the same thing with the Rogue, ending the commercial with a lease on the Rogue Sport.

      • 0 avatar

        While those 2 examples are especially bad, every single automaker that advertises any kind of deal in pricing is doing the exact same thing. If a commercial mentions some deal to be had, A) the car shown in the commercial is loaded while the advertised pricing is for an example with options “not reflected in images above” and B) there’s a rather large down payment included. It’s annoying and ought to be reined in.

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis


      GM’s fullsized pickup sales were up slightly last year. Fseries, Tundra & Titan sales were all down.

  • avatar

    I have no comment, just want to see what others have to say.

  • avatar

    Looks like the industry exceeded expectations and beat ‘conventional thinking’.

    Impressive showing by Hyundai, Kia, and Subaru.

    I think Subaru will have a hard time repeating. Hyundai and Kia and Corolla/Civic were helped by the end of Cruze and Focus/Fiesta.

    And FCA is pretty close to Ford. I’m kind of surprised Toyota didn’t overtake Ford this year, but it will happen.

    FIVE years of 17 million-plus. Not bad–but, just to be a contrarian, if you look at new vehicles sold per 100 Americans, the number continues to drop. In 2019, it was 15% lower than 2000, at around 5.2 vs 6.

    Certainly nothing like 1973, when it was over 7.

    But much better than 2009, at 3.4. Or 1982 at 4.4. 1982 was a big year–for me at least. During that model or calendar year, the Ford Mustang GT, Toyota Supra, and VW Rabbit GTI heralded the dawn of the golden era of cars and the twilight of the Malaise era (which I say was upon us with the energy crisis in 1973-74.)

    Of course, cars are much better now, they go a lot longer before major repairs are needed, and they rust much more slowly. So they don’t need to be replaced as much.

    From 2010 to 2019, approx 157 million units sold (and 2010 was an off-year). Over 85 million in the last 5 years–a lot of new vehicles.

    I see Dec 2020 being 14 million annualized rate, with 16 million sold during the year. This year overperformed, so next year has to balance it out, right?

    • 0 avatar

      “Over 85 million in the last 5 years–a lot of new vehicles.” And many of them will be less-than-ideal candidates for a used-car purchase.

      The strategy of “I realize this car isn’t perfect, but it will be under warranty while I own it” is perfectly rational. But it makes for a crappy U.S. vehicle fleet when the average age of a vehicle is pushing 12 years.

  • avatar

    If Toyota made a serious effort at full size pickup trucks, it would be big trouble for GM, Ford and Ram.

    • 0 avatar
      Guy A

      Toyota has tried for years even with a dedicated factory in Texas. But still not doing well. Doesn’t help that there is no other lathe market to sell the truck in either to help spread development cost.

    • 0 avatar

      The 2007 Tundra was as serious an effort as anyone has ever done, and objectively better than the domestics at the time. Didn’t matter. One year of increased sales, then basically back to their baseline customers which they have sold to ever since.

      Now the domestics are much improved, and they are more reliant on trucks than ever before. It’s impossible to imagine all of them being caught flat footed like they were in 2007.

      Any of the big 3 will happily sell you a 400 hp truck that gets low 20s on the highway and should last 250,000 miles. And do it for $40k or less if you want. How does an outsider crack that market?

      • 0 avatar

        What were Nissan’s first year Titan sales? I talked to a few people who traded F150s or Silverados in on them when they came out, as they were high in value and power in their moment. Unfortunately, what they found was that they guzzled gas when towing and had typical Nissan flimsiness in many details. When the second generation Tundra arrived, it is possible that some of the people who may have taken a chance on a brand change had wasted that chance on the Titan or earlier Tundra. The people I know who did buy 2nd generation Tundras are a happy bunch though. Unfortunately for Toyota, they don’t need to replace them and there is little incentive to trade in one that not only works well but is exactly like the new one.

        The UAW-3 knows all about planned obsolescence. They invented it.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a question of where management attention should be directed.

      Full-size trucks are the single most important product for both GM and Ford worldwide, and the most important product for the US piece of FCA, which makes all the profits. Of course management there is going to give the trucks practically unlimited resources and attention.

      On the other hand, no matter how much unrealized potential there is in the US pickup market, it won’t ever be Toyota’s most important market. Management doesn’t have the same incentive to throw everything at it. So Toyota hasn’t developed multiple pickup-specific powertrains or worked on some of the pickup-specific technology (intelligent towing features, sophisticated suspensions for live axles, etc.) that the domestics have been featuring lately. I just don’t see the incentive for Toyota to develop a market-leading pickup. Sure, they can follow the leaders and sell a hundred thousand high-margin vehicles a year, but getting to a multiple of that will take a degree of corporate attention that I’m not sure makes sense.

      • 0 avatar

        Good point. Who knows how many of a new truck need to be produced before a profit is returned. It could take Ford a year and a half to get in the black, Toyota longer than makes any sense at all.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s a foreign concept for Toyota. They’ve only marketed the Tundra as they do Camrys and such. Very limited variation, extremely limited fleet sales, forget about “special orders”.

        Basically take it or leave it.

        Yet those 3 little things (that Toyota hates) are exactly what make “Big Three” fullsize pickups a runaway success.

        Yes those things are very expensive (for the automaker), and Big Three fullsize pickups didn’t happen overnight. Except it’s a proven formula. Of course there’s no guarantees.

        But listening to what fullsize pickup buyers want, basically the details/refinement/tech/trim are what “make or break”, and yeah that gets expensive too.

  • avatar

    – “This speaks to Ram’s strategy of selling two different Ram 1500 pickups side-by-each.” Yesyesyesyesyes.

    – GM seems to be missing some rows? Oh my bad, I’m several years behind.

    – Tesla’s slide continues – up 35% for the year.

    – Always Be Closing? “The leads are weak.” :-)

  • avatar

    Can’t we stop trying to put a possible spin on it? It like hey at least I didn’t go back on heroin and go to prison for punching outa cop. What do I win??

    But I can say not everything has to do with sales volume and growth. Consumers are buy less sedans, even if the have to drive an old car longer, just to spend a lot more on a new truck.

    Toyota sales are down, but profits are up. Except it’s cute when Toyota offers more truck models and less cars.

    But the pink elephant in the room is the exponential and monumental growth of the auto aftermarket and replacement parts sector.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s so much coin in aftermarket it’s capitalism on steroids.

      Top end overhaul on my 6.0 at 183k bought AC Delco wires with one missing a a clip for spark plug. (Assembled on Mexico) sent me a complete set for replacement.

      Chinese exhaust broken bolt tab in a sealed bag (no broken piece in bag). Full credit. Switched to NAPA, correct exhaust manifold (Chinese) wrong exhaust donut seal (India). Took two parts ladies for solution.

      I can only imagine the margins to support that CS

      • 0 avatar

        Automakers can’t talk about it publicly, but they know. They’re starting to get into the aftermarket game, maybe reluctantly, but they’re showing up at SEMA too, not just with production modifieds but concept vehicles.

  • avatar

    How is Alfa so far behind Jaguar when it has the entire FCA dealer network to support it!

  • avatar

    I took home a Alfa Romeo Stelvio back in Sept. Wish I had gotten another Challanger instead.

  • avatar

    “Did anyone in your circle of family or friends take delivery of a new car in 2019?”

    Yes, a surprising number of them, I found out after returning to the US yesterday.

    It must be the optimism of good economic times ahead for America until at least the Nov 2020 elections.

    Many of the buys seem to have happened late in 2019 when a lot of cash was tossed on the hoods, and Employee Pricing for GM and Fiatsler was a motivator for fence-sitters.

  • avatar

    Mitsubishi continues to laugh in the face of the grim reaper

  • avatar

    It still was a good year overall, especially considering how expensive new vehicles are becoming. Massive long term loans are the only way the majority of automakers are able to sell cars these days.

    GM throws a lot of cash on the hood in order to move its metal. I’m so surprised how many vehicles GM sells a year considering I don’t see a whole of GM products on the Westcoast besides for its Trucks. I see tons of Nissans though.

    New cars/trucks/suvs are slowly becoming out of reach for the average middle class family. And because newer cars are so reliable, there’s not much of a need for people to trade in their newish one for a newer one.

  • avatar

    It’s hard to believe people keep buying (or leasing) new cars. Just shocked that people keep shelling out big bucks for average cars.

    The appeal of a new car isn’t lost on me, but spending $600-$900/month for it sure is. All to avoid budgeting $150/month for repairs on a nice used car? And you’re still paying for tires, brakes and oil changes on new cars too, so the delta is even bigger.

    • 0 avatar

      “It’s hard to believe people keep buying (or leasing) new cars. Just shocked that people keep shelling out big bucks for average cars.”

      But that is because they can afford it, and are optimistic enough about their future to put money on their bets.

      I believe right now is a great time to buy that new vehicle. Things look real good until the Nov 2020 election.

      After that, if the guy in the White House is voted out, I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for the economic future of America.

      Better enjoy the good time while you still can.

      Eventually it will change.

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