'Near Wholesale Death' Of Passenger Car Looms As U.S. Sales Drop

Shutterstock photo

Ford Motor ( F ) and General Motors ( GM ) topped December sales forecasts Wednesday, but the auto industry closed out a weaker year and faces an even worse 2018.

[ibd-display-video id=3061207 width=50 float=left autostart=true] Overall, the annualized pace of U.S. sales fell to 17.23 million for all of 2017, according to Autodata, better than views for 17.1 million but down from 17.55 million in 2016, marking the first slowdown after seven years of growth. Analysts see a further drop to 16.7 million in 2018.

Meanwhile, incentive spending is high; a glut of off-lease, used vehicles is muting new car demand; and rising interest rates could make vehicles less affordable. Automakers have cut production and idled factory workers to match slowing demand.

Yet, strong sales of SUVs, crossover utility vehicles and pickup trucks are helping to offset what one industry expert called "the near wholesale death" of the passenger car.

"This is a paradigm shift in consumer behavior, and the fallout will be reflected over the next few years as automakers make hard choices regarding which model lines will live or die," said Karl Brauer, executive editor of Kelley Blue Book.

Automakers would do well to align product and marketing with consumer demand going forward, said Rebecca Lindland, executive analyst for KBB.

As examples, she noted Ford's delay in bringing its globally successful Ecosport small SUV to the U.S. market; Fiat Chrysler's focus on the poorly received Patriot and Compass instead of the iconic Jeep brand; and GM's marketing emphasis on sports sedans, with TV ads showing Cadillacs being driven on cobblestone Manhattan streets, hardly the goal of most prospective buyers.

Here's how the top auto brands fared in December, which saw an annualized sales pace of 17.9 million:

General Motors

Kelley Blue Book sales estimate : 294,000; down 7.9% sales estimate : 301,617; down 5.5%

Results : 308,539, down 3.3% vs. a year ago. Retail sales rose 1.8% to 254,449, but fleet sales plunged 22%. For 2017 as a whole, GM sold 3 million units, down 1.3%.

For 2018, GM forecasts new car sales in the high 16 million-unit range in the light vehicle segment, which includes SUVs, crossovers and pickup trucks.

GM is well positioned heading into the new year because of its low inventories and focus on trucks and crossovers, which are in high demand among consumers, the company said in a Wednesday statement. On a retail basis, 78% of GM sales are now trucks and crossovers, compared with an industry average of 65%, GM added.

GM rose 2.4% to close at 42.82 on the stock market today , retaking the downward-sloping 50-day moving average. General Motors is trying to start building the right side of a consolidation.

Ford Motor

Kelley Blue Book sales estimate : 232,000; down 2.4% sales estimate : 234,957; down 2.0%

Results : 242,049, up 0.9%, helped by a 16.8% surge in fleet sales. Retail sales slid 4% to 176,164. SUV sales rose 8%, truck sales dipped 1% and car sales slid 5.5%.

For 2017 overall, Ford sold 2,586,715 vehicles, down 1.1%.

Ford stock rose 0.8% to 12.76.

Fiat Chrysler

Kelley Blue Book sales estimate : 170,000; down 11.7% sales estimate : 176,641; down 8.2%

Results : 171,946, down 11%. Retail sales fell 3% to 150,772, and fleet sales dived 42% to 21,174 units, as Fiat Chrysler ( FCAU ) deliberately retreats from the low-margin daily rental segment.

For the year, Fiat Chrysler sold 2,059,376 vehicles, down 8%.

Shares gapped up 4.1% to 19.19, back above an 18.43 buy point after initially clearing the entry in late December. The stock's relative strength line did not confirm that breakout, which soon wilted.

IBD'S TAKE:Looking for high quality stocks with the potential for big gains? Make sure to check out Leaderboard, IBD's curated list of top growth stocks. If you're new to IBD, you can take a free trial of Leaderboard .

Toyota Motor

Kelley Blue Book sales estimate : 220,000; down 9.6% sales estimate : 227,481; down 6.5%

Results : 222,985, down 8.3%. Toyota ( TM ) segment sales volume fell 7.2%. Lexus shrank 13.9%. For the year, Toyota sold 2,434,515 vehicles, down 0.6%.

Shares rose 1.4% to 130.13, after retaking a 128.21 buy point on Tuesday.


Kelley Blue Book sales estimate : 152,000; down 5.3% sales estimate : 151,229; down 5.8%

Results : 149,317, down 7%. Car sales tumbled 16.5%. Truck sales grew 1.4%. For the year, sales ticked 0.2% higher to 1.64 million.

Honda ( HMC ) rose 0.9%, slightly extended from a recent breakout.


Kelley Blue Book sales estimate : 144,000; down 5.7% sales estimate : 144,540; down 5.4%

Results : 138,226, down 9.5%. Nissan division sales fell 9.4%; Infiniti division sales fell 10%. For the year, sales rose 1.9% to 1.59 million, an all-time record thanks to a 15% jump in SUV, crossover and truck sales including the top-selling Nissan Rogue.

Nissan (NSANY) shares edged up 1%.


Kelley Blue Book sales estimate : 106,000; down 9.1% sales estimate : 103,473; down 11.3%

Results : The Kia brand sold 43,039 units, down 21%. For the year, it sold 589,668 vehicles, down 9%. Results for Hyundai are awaited.


Stocks To Buy And Watch: Top IPOs, Big And Small Caps, Growth Stocks

Looking For The Best Stocks To Buy And Watch? Start Here

Automotive Industry News

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

In This Story


Other Topics


Latest Markets Videos