U.S. new-vehicle retail sales in February are projected higher from a year ago, according to a forecast developed by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive. Retail sales are expected to reach 1,016,000 units, a 0.2% increase compared with February 2019. Reporting the same numbers without controlling for the number of selling days translates to an increase of 8.5% over last year. (February 2020 contains one extra weekend and two additional selling days than February 2019.)
Record levels of automaker spending are still being used to support the volume. Incentive spending is on track to reach $4,179 in February, the highest ever for the month and an increase of $293 from last year. Spending on cars is expected to be up $97 to $3,746, while spending on trucks/SUVs is up $353 to $4,335. Car mix is anticipated to fall to 26.4%, down three percentage points from last year and the lowest level ever for February. At the current pace, car mix for the industry will fall below 23% by December.
Record prices, coupled with the growth in sales, means that consumers are expected to spend $34.7 billion on new vehicles in February. This is up nearly $3.6 billion from last year and another record to start the year.
Total Sales Forecast
Total sales in February are projected to reach 1,332,200 units, a 1.8% decrease compared with February 2019. Reporting the same numbers without controlling for the number of selling days translates to an increase of 6.4% over last year. The seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) for total sales is expected to be 16.5 million units, flat from a year ago.
- The average new-vehicle retail transaction price in February is expected to reach $34,152. The previous high for the month of February, $33,208, was set in February 2019.
- Average incentive spending per unit in February is expected to reach $4,179, up from $3,886 last year. The previous record for the month—$4,008—was set in 2018.
- Incentive spending on cars is expected to be up $97 to $3,746, while spending on trucks/SUVs is up $353 to $4,335.
- Consumers are on pace to spend $34.7 billion on new vehicles in February, up $3.6 billion from February 2019.
- Trucks/SUVs account for 72.9% of new-vehicle retail sales through Feb. 16, the highest level ever for the month of February.
- Days to turn, the average number of days a new vehicle sits on a dealer lot before being sold to a retail customer, is 72 days (through Feb. 16). This is flat from a year ago.
- Fleet sales are expected to total 316,260 units, down 7.7% from February 2019. Fleet volume is expected to account for 24% of total light-vehicle sales, down from 25% a year ago.
“The once-in-a-generation sales calendar quirk means that February retail sales will exceed one million units for only the third time in the last 15 years.” The combination of the leap year and industry sales reporting practice means that this year’s sales month contains five weekends. The last time this happened was 28 years ago in 1992,” said Thomas King, President of the Data and Analytics Division at J.D. Power.
“Last year it took until September for the industry to reach the current spend levels,” King noted. “While the coronavirus has had no meaningful effect on production yet, it does have the potential to reduce overall inventory levels and lower the need for continued elevated incentives. If unhealthy inventory levels persist throughout the year, however, manufacturers may be faced with spend levels that are pacing towards $5,000 by next year.”