April Auto Sales Are Flat, With Some Notable Exceptions

As J.D. Power and LMC Automotive predicted earlier this week based on the first 17 days of the month, April has brought some lackluster sales numbers for most of the auto industry with major automakers posting lower new vehicle sales compared to April of 2017. The numbers have been attributed to weakening consumer demand for sedans and compact cars as opposed to trucks and cross-over vehicles, and a glut of new models competing for consumers’ attention.

The highlights of the April numbers include:

  • Ford Motor saw a 4.49 percent drop sales. The company’s sales of pickup trucks grew 0.9 percent, but SUV and passenger car sales shrank by 4.6 percent and 15 percent (respectively).
  • Toyota experienced a similar downturn to Ford, reporting a loss of 4.74 percent from last year’s numbers. The company’s only positive growth was a 1.5 percent increase in SUV and pickup truck sales.
  • Hyundai saw an 11.8 percent drop in sales from April 2017 to April 2018, and Kia contracted just over five percent.
  • BMW, Mercedes and Subaru saw modest growth from April of 2017 (4.23 percent, 2.33 percent and 1.54 percent, respectively).
  • Jeep sales were excellent, with growth of nearly 20 percent from last April’s numbers. Jeep set a new sales record for the second straight month, largely on the back of the new Wrangler introduced early this year, putting Fiat Chrysler’s numbers overall into the black with 4.32 percent growth from last April to this April.
  • Volvo bucked the slow or negative growth trend by reporting robust sales of over 17 percent from last April.
  • Robust sales of Land Rovers (23.71 percent) offset Jaguar’s slip of nearly 37 percent in sales to leave Jaguar Land Rover North America with overall flat growth of 0.27 percent.
  • Nissan North America saw a significant total drop of 26.5 percent, with a contraction of all its brands (Nissan, Infiniti and Mitsubishi).
  • VW Group of North America saw flat growth across all its brands for an April to April total growth rate of 3.2 percent.
  • The average monthly payment for new vehicles has crept up to $535 in April of 2018 compared to $509 in April 2017. The average amount financed in new vehicle purchases has increased to $31,318 in April compared to $30,315 the same month last year. Down payments averaged $3,911 in April compared to $3,770 last year.

Overall, 2018 has been uneven, and analysts expect that it will ultimately come in at a loss compared to its recent peak of 17.55 million units in 2016. The losses, in part, are being attributed to higher interest rates driving up car payments. Last year, U.S. auto sales dropped approximately two percent from the prior year.

Last month, General Motors announced it was ceasing monthly vehicle sales reporting in favor of quarterly releases and will no longer hold monthly conference calls with industry analysts and reporters. The company stated that it believes comparisons of monthly sales results in the U.S. among rival automakers are distorted by short-term discount programs.

“Thirty days is not enough time to separate real sales trends from short-term fluctuations in a very dynamic, highly competitive market,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. vice president of sales operations. “Reporting sales quarterly better aligns with our business, and the quality of information will make it easier to see how the business is performing.”

Ford has indicated that it may follow GM’s example, also citing monthly data “volatility,” and both Hyundai and Honda have expressed similar concerns, though not yet indicated they will drop monthly reporting.

Industry analysts have estimated GM sales for the month, but the numbers vary quite a bit, between flat and down eight percent. Edmunds has estimated that GM April sales between this year and last were down 2.8 percent, but Cox Automotive has estimated a slight increase in sales of 0.2 percent.

  April 2018 Sales Results