The world’s “Big 8” automakers are releasing March U.S. monthly sale figures throughout the day Tuesday. Forecasts expect sales to have reached 1.48 million from 1.19 million in February, or about a 2 percent increase from March 2013.
The seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) is expected to come in at 15.8 million, up from 15.3 million in February. The SAAR is a key 12-month running metric that adjusts for seasonal variations and gives an indication of the health of the marketplace and consumer sentiment. U.S. monthly new-vehicle sales figures from these mass-market producers are tracked by economists as one of the many indicators of growth or contraction in the world’s second-largest auto market after China.
The unusually harsh winter weather has been blamed for lower-than-expected sales at the start of the year. February’s SAAR hit 15.3 million, which missed the consensus estimate of about 15.5 million.
UPDATE 3:40 p.m. EDT – General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM)
After an unusual delay in reporting its monthly sales figures, the world’s third-largest automaker based on the latest annual sales volume said Tuesday U.S. deliveries in March were up 7.4 percent to 245,950 vehicles on robust growth in demand for Chevrolet brand passenger cars and double-digit growth in Buick.
“We expect to see solid economic growth in the months ahead, with the job market, household income and consumer spending all showing positive signs,” Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of Sales Operations, said in announcing the sales figures.
GM estimates that the seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR), or how many cars are being sold based on a 12-month running estimate adjusted for seasonal fluctuations, touched 16 million. GM’s estimate is higher than the current consensus of 15.8 million. Wither figure would be good news that puts the U.S. auto market in line to topping 16 million units in 2014. GM’s inventory level is still higher than what’s considered healthy, at 815,492 vehicles, or an 83-day supply. But this figure is down form 87 days the previous month. Sixty days of supply is considered the sweet spot – not too many, not too few – but levels tend to be higher in the early months in anticipation of an uptick in demand heading toward summer.
The owner of the Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac brands said it hit a new record for average transaction price of about $34,000 per sale. The company consistently leads the industry in incentive spending.
Cadillac division sales declined 6.3 percent, to 14,765 units. GMC, Buick and Chevrolet all saw increases. Deliveries of the company’s top-selling vehicle, the Sierra pickup truck, increased nearly 7 percent to 42,247.
GM winners for March 2014:
- All models in the Buick division saw sales increases, with the bestselling Enclave full-sized luxury crossover delivering 1.5 percent growth to 5,319 vehicles. Coming in at No. 2 in unit sales volume was the Verano compact sedan, up 7.2 percent to 4,472.
- The Cadillac SRX was the only gainer in that luxury division. Sales of the luxury mid-sized crossover increased 23.1 percent to 5,058.
- The GMC Terrain midsized crossover saw a 7.2 percent growth in demand, to 9,059 units.
GM losers for the month:
- Chevrolet Impala sales fell 12.3 percent to 12,952.
- Deliveries of the Cadillac ATS compact luxury sedan fell nearly 17 percent to 2,982.
- Sales of the GMC Acadia full-sized crossover retreated by 16.7 percent to 8,339.
UPDATE 2:53 p.m. EDT – Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc.
The U.S. subsidiary of the world’s largest automaker by sales volume announced earlier today its monthly sales figures in which it reported a 4.9 percent increase in year-over-year March U.S. sales volume, to 215,348 vehicles. Here’s a rundown of the highlights the company released Tuesday afternoon Eastern Daylight Time.
Toyota brand cars, which make up nearly half of all company sales, saw a 2.9 percent drop to 103,888 units. Toyota SUVs increased sales by 18.7 percent to 45,806 while deliveries of the Tacoma and Tundra pickup tricks increased a combined 10.3 percent to 82,867.
Lexus division sales were up 23.3 percent to 28,593 on robust growth in both cars and SUVs.
Toyota winners for March:
- Sales of the best-selling Toyota vehicle, the Camry sedan, increased 11.4 percent to 41,953. This incentives-driven rebound comes after deliveries of the Camry fell by over 7 percent in the U.S. in February.
- Demand for the Toyota 4Runner mid-sized SUV led to a 53 percent jump in sales, to 7,062 units.
- Deliveries of the Toyota Highlander midsized crossover increased 14.3 percent to 13,019 vehicles.
Toyota losers for March:
- Prius hybrid sales dropped 16 percent to 18,582 units.
- Corolla sedan sales also fell, by 5.5 percent to 29,685.
- The Sienna minivan lost 8.6 percent of sales volume (to 11,027) compared to last year.
UPDATE 2:28 p.m. EDT – American Honda Motor Co.
The U.S. subsidiary of Japan’s second largest auto manufacturer said Tuesday U.S. sales in March declined 2 percent to 133,318 units, as demand for its best-selling vehicle, the Accord sedan, declined and demand for its popular Odyssey minivan was almost flat.
The company took a swipe at the competition’s growth in incentive spending.
“Despite heavy incentives from several major automakers, Honda market share remained strong,” the company said in the statement announcing the data. Incentive spending helps fuel sales but hurts profit margins and can wipe out growth in average transaction prices.
Honda’s luxury Acura division grew 10.5 percent almost exclusively on demand for the MDX mid-sized luxury crossover and its compact version, the RDX.
Honda's March 2014 winners:
- The Acura MDX and RDX made up nearly 67 percent (10,373 units) of all new Acuras sold in the U.S. last month, riding the current crest in popularity for crossover SUVs.
- The CR-V basic crossover continues to be a key product for Honda, with 28,657 deliveries in the U.S. in March, a 6.5 percent increase compared to the same month last year.
Honda's March 2014 losers:
- As crossover SUV demand continues to snatch segment share from sedans, sales of Honda’s best-selling product, the Accord sedan, was hit last month with a 7-percent decline to 33,962 units.
- The Pilot did not feel the crossover love last month. Sales of the mid-sized CUV fell nearly 21 percent to 8,894.
UPDATE 1:43 p.m. EDT – Kia Motors America, Inc.
The Irvine, Calif.-based subsidiary of the South Korean automaker said Tuesday U.S. vehicle deliveries were up 11.5 percent in March, with sales of its bestselling U.S.-built Optima four-door sedan rising 13.5 percent to 16,310, an all-time monthly record.
Kia and Hyundai, which share many operations and therefore typically have their data combined, grew total sales by 3.7 percent, to 121,782 units largely on better performance from Kia’s key models. The average transaction price for the conjoined companies increased 2.2 percent from the same month last year, to $24,310. Kia-Hyundai have the lowest transaction price in the industry largely due to its light exposure to entry level luxury. The new Kia K900 luxury sedan that’s currently arriving at U.S. dealerships (105 of them sold last month) and the 2015 Hyundai Genesis due out later this month is an attempt to change the South Korean automakers’ reputation as producers of low-cost cars.
The two companies led the industry in incentive spending growth in March, though their average remained the lowest at $1,965 per sale. Honda is the only other “Big 8” automaker that has kept incentive spending below $2,000 per transaction. All of the top eight global automakers increased incentive spending compared to March 2013 (year-over-year) and February 2014 (month-over-month), by an average of 7.9 percent and 2.6 percent respectively, according to estimates from TrueCar, Inc.
Kia March 2014 winners:
- In addition to the Optima, the Soul compact also had a record breaking month with sales growing nearly 16 percent to 13,992 units.
- Sportage compact crossover deliveries increased 33 percent to 3,571.
Kia March 2014 losers:
- The Rio subcompact, down almost 11 percent to 3,571.
- Sorento mid-sized crossover sales fell 13.3 percent to 8,671.
UPDATE 12:46 p.m. EDT – Hyundai Motor America
The Fountain Valley, Calif.-based subsidiary of the South Korean automaker said Tuesday that U.S. vehicle deliveries decreased in March by 1.9 percent to 67,005 units.
While announcing the numbers, Bob Pradzinski, vice president of sales, said lingering winter weather in the early half of the month impacted sales, but “during the second half of March, we saw very nice gains in our retail pace that we expect to continue throughout the month of April.”
After rising slightly in February compared to the same month the previous year, deliveries of the best-selling Elantra subcompact fell nearly 18 percent in March.
Hyundai winners for the month:
- Santa Fe midsize crossover sales shot up almost 37 percent to 9,726.
- Sonata midsize sedan deliveries increased by nearly 7 percent to 19,248.
- Tucson compact crossover sales grew nearly 14 percent to 4,627.
Hyundai losers for the month (other than the Elantra):
- Sales of the Genesis full-size luxury vehicle declined 30 percent during a sell-down period ahead of the all-new 2015 model that’s set to hit U.S. dealer showrooms later this month. The company announced today the new version of the company’s luxury car will start at $38,000.
UPDATE: 11:27 a.m. EDT – Nissan North America Inc.
The U.S. subsidiary of Japan’s third-largest auto company said Tuesday that U.S. sales increased 8.3 percent to 149,136 vehicles, the highest monthly sales volume in the company’s history.
“Nissan Rogue [compact crossover] continues to overdeliver and it certainly has been a factor in the company's success in 2014,” said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for the Chicago-based automotive pricing and information provider Cars.com. “Small crossovers have been the fastest-growing segment in recent years and recently reached an 18 percent market share – up from around 15 percent just a year ago. Rogue did exceptionally well because of its overall value proposition and well-received design.”
Another reason for Nissan’s success last month: the end of the Japanese fiscal year.
"Car shoppers generally have an easier time finding deals on Japanese brands in March because it's the end of the Japanese fiscal year, and those brands step up their incentives to make one last sales push,” said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst for Edmunds.com, the online automotive information provider. “Nissan is usually more eager than its competitors to play this game.”
Nissan’s incentive spending (the deal-sweeteners car companies use to attract sales, such as rebates) was up nearly 5 percent last month compared to March 2013, to $2,889, according to estimates by TrueCar Inc. The auto pricing provider Kelley Blue Book says Nissan was the only “Big 8” automaker to see its average transaction price decline from the year-ago period, to $27,697. An increase in incentive spending coupled with a decline in average transaction price means profit margins have slimmed on vehicle sales. Nissan currently tops Japanese automakers on incentive spending.
On the other hand, sales in Nissan luxury Infiniti division were up 12.5 percent last month, to 12,494 units. Automakers tend to have their best profit margins in luxury cars, whose buyers often load up on options.
Nissan’s winners for the month:
- Deliveries of the Infiniti QX60, the automaker’s first three-row midsize crossover that was introduced in the U.S. last year and is made in Smyrna, Tenn., increased 27 percent to 3,340 units. It was the second-best-selling Infiniti after the Q50 compact sedan, which went on sale in the U.S. in the third quarter of last year. Recent introductions tend to do well.
- The second-generation 2014 Rogue crossover that went on sale in the U.S. in November helped boost total Rogue deliveries by 26.3 percent to 19,420 units. The Rogue is Nissan’s second-best-selling vehicle.
- Sentra compact sales increased 38.4 percent to 19,323 units.
Nissan’s losers for the month:
- Sales of the Titan pickup truck manufactured on Canton, Miss., declined nearly 37 percent on low selling volume, to 1,314.
- Altima deliveries declined nearly 5 percent, to 35,921. The Altima is Nissan’s best seller.
- Pathfinder crossover sales fell 13 percent to 7,894 units.
UPDATE 10:49 a.m. EDT – Volkswagen Group of America Inc.
The U.S. subsidiary of the German automaker said Tuesday that U.S. sales fell 2.6 percent with declines in all models except the best-selling Jetta compact car and Passat full-size sedan.
“With the spring selling season upon us, we expect to see more stability ahead as we lay the groundwork for the launch of the all-new Golf coming later this summer,” Mark McNabb, chief operating officer for Volkswagen Group of America, said in a statement announcing the results.
Volkswagen, which eked past General Motors last year to become the world’s second-largest automaker by sales volume, isn’t doing well in the U.S. as sales there of compact hatchbacks, a key VW segment, have been falling. The company is also not doing well among highly competitive crossovers, and it lacks a pickup truck in a market that strongly demands them.
- Passat deliveries increased 16.1 percent to 11,050 units. This is the first monthly increase this year for Volkswagen’s second-best-selling vehicle, which is manufactured at the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant.
- Jetta compact sedan sales increased 6.3 percent to 13,687 units.
- Four (yes, four) Golf R hatchbacks were sold in the U.S. last month. Sales of Volkswagen’s mix of mini cars (the Golf, the GTI and the R) declined 30 percent to 1,989 units compared to March 2013.
- Deliveries of the CC, the fancier, four-door fastback version of the Passat, fell 36.2 percent to 1,129 units.
UPDATE: 10 a.m. EDT – Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F)
Ford said Tuesday that March sales increased 3.4 percent year-over-year to 244,167 vehicles as sales picked up in the latter half of the month and Ford Fusion sedan deliveries hit an all-time record for the model, first introduced in 2005.
“Overall retail sales in the West continued to expand at the fastest rate in the nation – including California being up 32 percent. F-Series also had a very strong month, as did Lincoln MKZ,” John Felice, Ford vice president, U.S. sales, said in a statement announcing the results.
Ford’s average transaction price for each vehicle sold increased 1.7 percent to $34,372, according to auto-pricing information provider Kelley Blue Book. Meanwhile, incentive spending growth from March 2013 is among the highest of the “Big 8” global automakers, at 10.7 percent, or $3,260 per unit sold, according to industry information provider TrueCar Inc. The more a company spends on incentives, such as rebates, the lower the profit margin per sale.
Deliveries of the Ford F-Series pickup truck, America’s top-selling vehicle, increased 5.1 percent to 70,940. The company’s luxury Lincoln brand sales increased 31.4 percent to 8,969 units. Ford SUVs continued to outsell sedans, in line with an overall industry trend.
- Lincoln MKZ entry-level luxury sedan sales jumped 71.7 percent, making up nearly half of all Lincoln sales last month at 4,052 units. The car was significantly redesigned for the 2013 model year.
- Ford Fusion deliveries increased 8.8 percent to 32,963. The second-generation Fusion came out in the 2013 model year and additional capacity was added to Ford’s Flat Rock assembly plant in Michigan to meet robust demand.
- Ford’s Police Interceptor Utility vehicle, the Ford Explorer SUV used by law enforcement, fire departments and emergency agencies, is a low-volume seller, but deliveries shot up 45 percent to 1,583. Meanwhile, demand for Ford’s Police Interceptor Sedan (the Taurus for cops) declined 4.2 percent to 887 units.
- The Ford C-MAX compact didn’t fare so well in March. Deliveries shrank 39 percent to 2,295 vehicles. Compacts have been losing segment market share in the U.S. as more buyers gravitate to small crossover SUVs.
- The Ford Escape compact crossover is Ford’s best-selling utility vehicle, so any decline is significant. Escape deliveries fell 0.8 percent to 28,701 units.
- Deliveries of Ford’s Transit Connect, often used commercially as a delivery van or taxi, declined nearly 17 percent to 3,046. The Transit is manufactured at Ford’s plant in Valencia, Spain.
UPDATE 9:29 a.m. EDT
General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM) annouced Tuesday morning that its sales report would be delayed for several hours "due to a computer systems issue that impacted dealer sales reporting." GM CEO Mary Barra was scheduled to testify to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday regarding the controversial recall of 2.6 million vehicles linked to at least 13 fatalities.
8:23 a.m. EDT: Chrysler Group LLC
Chrysler was the first to report sales on Tuesday. The Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker said U.S. sales increased 13 percent in March, to 193,915 units, on strong demand for Jeep SUVs and Ram pickups.
Chrysler Group, which is in the process of merging operations with Fiat SpA into a new entity called FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), said its Jeep brand had its best sales month ever with deliveries rising 47 percent compared to March 2013. The company’s Ram pickup posted the best March in a decade.
“Chrysler owes much of its success so far in 2014 to the Jeep brand,” said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for the Chicago-based automotive pricing and information provider Cars.com. “Consumers are also responding favorably to the most recent design direction for Chrysler vehicles, thanks to the company's decision to allow mid-cycle changes to keep their line up fresh in an extremely competitive environment.”
Chrysler’s average transaction price increased 3.1 percent from the previous March, to $32,018, according to automotive vehicle valuation company Kelley Blue Book. Chrysler incentive spending increased 0.3 percent in the same period of time, to $3,349, according to vehicle pricing and information provider TrueCar Inc. Higher transaction prices and lower incentive spending (what manufacturers offer to entice sales, such as providing rebates) improve profit margins.
Sales in the Chrysler brand, which includes the 200 compact car, the 300 full-size sedan and the Town & Country minivan, declined 23 percent, while Dodge brand sales grew 1 percent as sales growth of the Caravan minivan offset a decline in demand for the Avenger midsize sedan.
Chrysler’s winners and losers for the month:
- Demand for the Grand Cherokee jumped 26 percent to 15,940 units. The smaller all-new Cherokee has also done well with 36,906 vehicles sold in the first three months of the year.
- Ram pickup sales grew 26 percent to 42,532.
- Dodge Charger deliveries topped 10,000 units last month, a 15 percent increase over last year.
- Chrysler 200 sedan sales fell 55 percent to 7,531 ahead of the rollout of the second-generation version, due out later this year.
- Sales of the Dodge Dart compact sedan declined 24 percent to 6,135 units.
- Deliveries of the Challenger pony car declined 20 percent from last year, to 4,882 units.