AutoData says that the seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) in March 2017 is 16.62 million units in the U.S. falling below 17 million for the first time since last August. Industry wide, 1,555,859 light vehicles were sold in March, up from 1,333,637 in February, but down – gulp – from 1,581,764 units in March 2016. Un-adjusted for business days, sales for all brands were down 1.6%from a year ago.
Perhaps more ominous is the average length of time a vehicle occupied a dealer’s tarmac – 70 days in March – the longest amount of time since July 2009. This is good for banks doing the financing and fighting the Volker Rules, but may be a problem for potential customers, and certainly for auto dealers who are holding the floor plan loans as the calendar turns over – incurring interest – each day, every un-sold day. (What Auto Companies are at Risk Under Trump?)
Offshore brands as a group performed slightly better, falling -0.4% from a year ago, but they are still under the nit twit tweets of a threatened Trump border tax. Given the sales slowdown, foreigners held 56.2% of the March U.S. auto market, an increase from the 54% held in February. In March 2016, they held 55.5% of the market. Overall sales for Asian and European brands totaled 874,130 vehicles, up from 719,503 in February, but down from the 877,458 units wholesaled in March of last year. (Trump versus Auto Industry – Outcome Could be Ugly, Collision Course – Trump, Mexico, NAFTA, What Auto Companies are at Risk Under Trump?)
Domestic brands – the former now much Diminished Big Three – held 43.8% of the March auto market, down from 46% last month – despite an ongoing boom in light truck and crossover sales, and slipping from 44.5% last March. Overall, the Diminished Three sold 681,729 units, up from 614,134 vehicles in February. Nevertheless, this was still off from 704,306 vehicles in March 2016. This resulted in a sales decrease of -3.2% from last March. Trucks – Detroit’s bread and butter – are no longer unchallenged by offshore brands.
Asian brands finished the month with the biggest U.S. market share at 47%, an increase from 45.5% in February and 46.7% a year ago. Overall sales of 731,163 vehicles were up from 606,706 in February, but they were down -1.1% from the 738,970 vehicles sold in March 2016.
European brands the biggest exporters under the Trump Border Tax held 9.2% of the market in mostly the more lucrative luxury segments, up from 8.5% in February and 8.8% last March. In addition to capturing a bigger share of the market in March, overall unit sales for Europe when they sold 112,797 vehicles, and were also up 3.2% over last March when they sold 138,488 vehicles.
Trucks and SUVs – no surprise given gasoline prices and American tastes – are favored by shoppers. Six of the top ten selling vehicles for the month – this is more than 25% of the market or where the real money is – were held by vehicles in this segment. The Ford F-Series – no surprise, this has been going on for decades, followed by Ram, and Chevrolet Silverado pickups dominated the top three spots.
However, the highly-styled Nissan Rogue was in fourth place, upholding its status as the top selling crossover for the month. Sales of the Rogue are up 42.6 % compared to last March. The recently-redesigned Honda CR-V took sixth place with sales up 23% compared to March 2016. The Toyota RAV4 finished the month in seventh place with sales up 10.3%.
Nonetheless cars – but not Diminished Detroit Three cars – remain strong competitors with three models making the month’s list of best-sellers. The Toyota Camry finished in fifth place as the top selling car in the U.S., although sales were down -3.6% (a rounding error, frankly given the volume) from last March. Honda Civic finished in eighth place with sales decline of -4.1%, and the Toyota Corolla—finished in ninth place with sales down -6.1%. The Nissan Altima took tenth place for the month with sales down -18.2 %.
“The industry’s performance in March suggests that sales may be plateauing,” claimed AIADA President Cody Lusk. “Now is the time for dealers to tighten their operations and push back against any government efforts to raise taxes on consumers already struggling to make ends meet.”