U.S. car-industry sales in May appeared to be stronger than analysts predicted as consumers took advantage of longer-than-typical Memorial Day specials and showed confidence in making big purchases.
Cox Automotive Inc. predicted May auto sales would jump 3.1 percent from a year ago, to about 1.56 million vehicles, partly because May 2018 had one more selling day than May 2017.
Precise industry results are somewhat difficult to determine because General Motors Co. is no longer publicly reporting its monthly sales.
May is typically a huge sales month for carmakers, who pile on incentives and sales around Memorial Day. The holiday was earlier this year than in others, which allowed dealers to continue sales for more days, likely aiding sales, said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive.
Chesbrough said low unemployment and the tax reform — which has added money to consumers’ pocketbooks — is also helping the new car sales pace.
"That economic climate of strong job creation, coupled with the low interest rates that we know are out there, is leading to a very robust vehicle market," Chesbrough said.
Several major automakers posted strong sales increases in May, including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Subaru.
Fiat Chrysler’s sales were slightly off Cox Automotive’s forecast, and Toyota posted a small decline when a small gain was predicted. But Ford Motor Co.’s 0.7 percent increase was much better than the 10.5 percent loss expected by Cox Automotive, and American Honda’s 3.1 percent increase also was higher than Cox’s estimate.
Car sales continue to be weak spots for most manufacturers, but SUV sales are more than picking up the slack. For example, sales of the newly redesigned 2018 Lincoln Navigator were up 122.4 percent in May, the Honda Pilot midsize hauler rose 36.1 percent, and the people-hauling Toyota Highlander jumped 17.6 percent.
"Despite rising transaction prices and higher fuel costs, the new vehicle market remains strong. Consumers continue to buy trucks and SUVs at an accelerated pace, more than offsetting the ongoing drop in car sales," Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, said in a statement. "Economic indicators suggest we’ll see this trend throughout the summer and fall, though talk of tariffs and the specter of $4-plus-a-gallon fuel could end the party, and inventory levels remain relatively high at several automakers."
Fiat Chrysler’s sales jumped 11 percent in May, to 214,294, marking the best May since 2004. Results were led by a 28.8 percent surge in Jeep sales, to 97,287 — 45 percent of the company’s May sales. Jeep sales also set a May record. Sales of the recently redesigned off-road-worthy Wrangler rose 25.9 percent, compact Cherokee SUV sales were up 62.5 percent, and Compass sales soared 223 percent, to 17,327. The Ram, Dodge and Alfa Romeo brands each posted sales increases, while year-over-year sales fell for the Chrysler and Fiat brands.
Ford’s sales rose 0.7 percent, to 242,824, beating most estimates. Ford’s truck sales rose 9.4 percent, its SUV sales were up 0.5 percent, and its car sales slipped 13.3 percent from May 2017. Ford branded sales increased 1 percent, while Lincoln luxury brand sales dropped 5.2 percent. Ford sales were led by an 11.3 percent increase in the popular F-Series pickup trucks. The total of 84,639 sold made this the best May for the F-Series since 2000.
General Motors Co.
While GM no longer reports monthly sales (beginning with April sales, it announced it would report quarterly sales instead), Cox Automotive estimated GM’s May sales likely came in near its expectations of 11.7 percent growth, to 265,000 vehicles.
Coming off a surprise 28 percent decline in April car sales, Nissan’s May sales totaled 131,832, down 4.1 percent from a year ago. Car sales fell 11.7 percent, and truck sales rose 2.8 percent. Nissan’s Infiniti luxury brand sales were down 7.1 percent, and Nissan brand sales dropped 3.8 percent. Nissan crossovers, trucks and SUV sales rose 4 percent to set a May record, with the popular Rogue compact crossover also setting a May record. Rogue sales totaled 38,413, up 18.1 percent year-over-year.
The German automaker’s sales of 31,211 in May were up 4 percent. Car sales were down sharply, with sales of the compact Jetta off nearly 41 percent from a year ago, even with some sales of the all-new 2019 Jetta. Sales growth was seen with the new 3-row Atlas, up a smashing 143.7 percent. Sales of the new Tiguan SUV were also strong, at 8,579 — its best month yet.
May sales for American Honda rose 3.1 percent, to 153,069 vehicles. Total car sales were down 2.7 percent, but truck sales increased 9.2 percent from May 2017. Honda brand sales jumped 4.3 percent, and Acura luxury brand sales slipped 8 percent. Honda sales were buoyed by record May results from the Honda Pilot, up 36 percent, and the CR-V, up 11.6 percent. Sales of the all-new Accord were down 15.9 percent. The Civic was a bright spot in cars: Its sales rose 7.4 percent.
May sales of Hyundai and Genesis vehicles jumped 10 percent, to 66,056. Hyundai sales rose 11.5 percent, while sales for the luxury Genesis vehicles fell 38.6 percent. Hyundai set a SUV sales record for any month at 28,777, up 41 percent from a year ago. Its new subcompact Kona SUV sold 5,079 units, and the compact Tucson SUV set best-ever sales for any month at 12,991, up 22.6 percent. Elantra sedan sales were a bright spot in car sales, jumping 26.5 percent.
Kia sales increased 1.6 percent, to 59,462. The Stinger sports car set a monthly sales record at 1,761. The subcompact Rio car, Forte compact car, Niro hybrid hatchback and Sportage compact crossover also posted year-over-year increases.
Toyota’s sales slipped 1.3 percent, to 215,321. Toyota brand sales fell 1.5 percent, while Lexus luxury brand sales fell just 0.1 percent. Total car sales were down 11 percent. The new midsize Camry, a longtime sales leader, was down 7.9 percent from May 2017. Several Toyota SUVs posted increases, as did the midsize Toyota Tacoma pickup — its sales rose 21.1 percent.
Growth for Subaru’s all-wheel-drive vehicles continued, as it set a record for May sales at 60,146, up 7.2 percent from a year ago. The Outback and Crosstrek small SUVs/wagons each posted best-ever May sales at 16,072 and 14,387, respectively. Outback sales rose 9.9 percent, and the redesigned Crosstrek, with its best month yet, increased sales by 74.4 percent from May 2017.