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Auto Sales Dip in April As SUV Sales Sizzle

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author photo by Melissa Burden May 2018

April's U.S. auto sales fell for many major automakers, including a 28 percent decline for Nissan, which pushed overall industry sales of new cars, trucks and crossovers down from the same month in 2017.

Cox Automotive predicted April new auto sales would slide 3.6 percent from a year ago to about 1.37 million vehicles, largely because April had two fewer selling days and one less weekend than the comparison month in 2017.

With most numbers in, Cox Automotive estimated sales fell about 5 percent to just less than 1.35 million vehicles.

Sales were a mixed bag for the major manufacturers. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Volkswagen and Subaru were among companies that posted gains. Most automakers saw sales fall slightly.

And aside from Nissan, the rest of the industry fared well and would have been about flat if April had had more selling days, said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive.

"Buying conditions still remain strong in the industry," he said. "The economy is still growing at a healthy clip. There are very few concerns out there that we can see right now that are going to impact vehicle buying. Interest rates are ticking up, but they remain low. Inflation is a concern, but it still remains in-check."

The month, like many in the recent past, saw consumers increasingly walk away from car sales in favor of crossovers and utilities. Many automakers that saw increases were aided by SUV sales, including Fiat Chrysler with its surge in Jeep SUV sales.

"It's clear nearly everyone wants an SUV, and those who want or need an SUV will have more and more choices in the coming months and years," said Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader. "However, bargain hunters should look to sedans for the real bargains. Cars like the Ford Taurus, Ford Fusion, Nissan Maxima and Chevrolet Impala are the best they've ever been, and excellent deals will become more and more common as the shift to crossovers and SUVs continues."

Fiat Chrysler

The automaker said sales totaled 184,149 in April, up 4.5 percent from a year ago. The increase was crafted by success from its Jeep brand, which saw sales soar 20 percent to 82,641 for a record April. Jeep was led by by soaring sales of the new Compass compact SUV, which replaced the compact Patriot and old Compass, and a best-ever month of Wrangler sales. The all-new Wrangler, the iconic off-road capable utility, posted its best month of sales at 29,776, up 58 percent from April 2017. The rest of FCA sales were mixed with the Dodge and Alfa Romeo brands posting year-over-year increases and the Ram, Chrysler and Fiat brands experiencing drops.

General Motors Co.

Beginning with April sales, the Detroit-based automaker is no longer reporting monthly new car, truck and SUV sales. GM, which sells vehicles under the Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands, will instead report quarterly sales. Figures for April, May and June won't be released until sometime in July. Cox Automotive initially estimated GM sales would land around 245,000 for April, up just slightly from April 2017.

Ford Motor Co.

Ford posted a 4.7 percent decline in new auto sales to 204,651 vehicles. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company saw its car sales slip 15 percent from a year ago. SUV sales dropped 4.6 percent, pulled down by some vehicles in need of freshening. The company's bright spot, its popular-selling F-Series including the F-150 and newly redesigned Super Duty pickups, continued a sales uptick, up 3.5 percent over April 2017. Sales of Ford's newest SUV, the small EcoSport, had its best month yet, selling nearly 5,300 SUVs. The Lincoln luxury brand also saw sales fall 12.1 percent, hampered by a sedan lineup, even as the brand continues to see sales success from its new Navigator SUV.

Nissan

The Japanese carmaker saw its April sales slide 28 percent from a year ago to 87,764 vehicles, catching analysts by surprise. Both the Nissan brand and its luxury Infiniti brand slipped by double-digit percentages. In a statement, Nissan said the decline was due to lower retail sales in a competitive U.S. market and reduced fleet sales. Its outgoing Altima midsize car volume dropped by nearly half from a year ago. But it wasn't just cars that were down, either. The full-size Titan pickup slipped by more than a third, and even the popular-selling small Rogue SUV was off sharply from the same month in 2017. A redesigned 2019 Altima is due out this fall, and the brand also has a new Kicks subcompact crossover coming soon.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen sales rose 4.5 percent in April to 28,794, led by sales of two new SUVs -- the Tiguan and the 3-row Atlas.

Toyota

April sales for Toyota totaled 192,348, down 4.7 percent. Toyota's namesake brand saw sales fall 5.1 percent, while its Lexus luxury brand posted a 2.1 percent decline. While total Toyota car sales fell 6.1 percent, the full-size Avalon sedan was a positive. It has been redesigned for the 2019 model year and its sales grew 18.5 percent in the month. The top-selling midsize Camry sedan also fared relatively well, as its sales slipped by just 5 percent.

Honda

With sales of 125,701, Honda's results were down 9.2 percent from a year ago. Honda brand sales slid 8.4 percent, while the Acura premium brand saw sales drop by 15.9 percent. Like much of the industry, car sales were down sharply at more than 14 percent overall. Sales of the Accord, which was recently redesigned, saw sales drop off by more than 19 percent from a year ago. The 3-row Pilot SUV was a bright spot for the brand, with sales increasing 22 percent from April 2017.

Hyundai

Hyundai and its Genesis luxury brand saw combined sales fall 11 percent in April to 56,063. The news wasn't all bad for Hyundai, though, as it set a new monthly SUV sales record with 25,618 sport utilities sold. Tucson, a compact SUV, continued its growth, reaching best-ever monthly sales of more than 12,000. And the new Kona subcompact SUV sold 3,315 in April.

Kia

Kia sales slipped 5.2 percent to 50,585, pulled down by some slow car sales, including the soon-to-be freshened Forte sedan. The Sportage compact crossover set best-ever April sales at 7,653, jumping 34.9 percent from a year ago. Another bright spot was a 34.2 percent gain in sales of the Rio compact car.

Subaru

Subaru, known for its popular all-wheel drive wagons and sport utilities, posted a 1.5 percent increase in April sales. The brand's 53,170 sales set an April record. Buyers helped push the compact Crosstrek to its best April sales at more than 12,200.

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Auto Sales Dip in April As SUV Sales Sizzle - Autotrader