Forecasters say new-auto sales in the U.S. are making a much stronger start this year than in 2014, when a harsh winter storm kept shoppers away from dealerships for the last half of January. The storm that hit the Northeast this week might have discouraged some car buying in the densely populated region, but industry watchers say the national impact on new-auto sales has been minimal.
Deliveries for the month are expected to rise about 13 percent compared with the same month last year, according to Kelley Blue Book and TrueCar.com, to 1.14 million vehicles. This would represent the best January since 2006. The year-over-year sales leap is largely due to last January’s weather-related poor performance that pushed sales down to 1 million units.
“I don’t see this month’s Northeast snowstorm offsetting auto sales in a big way,” Kelsey Mays, consumer affairs editor at automotive pricing and information provider Cars.com, said by email. “The storm came up rather suddenly. Even late last week, news reports called for significant snow this week, but blizzard headlines didn’t really kick in until late in the weekend.”
Estimates for January’s seasonally adjusted annualized rate, or SAAR, call for 16.4 million to 16.6 million vehicles, up from 15.3 million last January. The SAAR is a key economic metric that estimates the number of cars sold in a 12-month period in any given month. New-auto sales ended 2014 at 16.5 million, the same as in 2006, and are forecast to rise to 16.9 million this year, which would match 2005’s number. January is typically one of the weakest months of the year, so the SAAR will likely rise in February and March before dipping in April.
Automakers will announce sales data on Feb. 3. U.S. new-auto sales tracks the monthly health of the automotive industry and consumer sentiment. General Motors (GM), Ford and FCA US (maker of Chryslers and Jeeps) are expected to see double-digit gains as consumers tend to gravitate toward bigger trucks and SUVs amid falling gasoline prices. Winter weather also encourages buyers to purchase SUVs and discourages luxury-car sales.
“Expect a strong push from Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Ram and F-Series, especially when taking into consideration the low cost of fuel and the appeal of these recently redesigned core products,” Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said in an email.
KBB sees GM growing year-over-year sales by nearly 20 percent, to about 205,000 units, followed by FCA with 14 percent growth, or 145,000 vehicles, on the back of demand for Jeep SUVs. Ford and Toyota are seen growing sales by 12 percent to 13 percent. American Honda also will likely see double-digit increases compared with last year.