April Big Three Car Sales Crumble as Auto Industry Hits a Wall

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The Big Three car makers all suffered sharp drops in sales for April, as did several foreign car companies. Hardest hit were car sales. At Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), they dropped 21% year over year as people continued to gravitate to sport utility vehicles, pickups and crossovers. Ford’s total sales, which included light trucks and cars, were down 7.2% to 214,695. General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) total sales for April dropped 5.8% to 244,506. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (NYSE: FCAU) sales fell 6.6% to 177,441.

The drops beg the question of whether U.S. vehicles sales, up every year since 2009, have peaked.

Some of Ford’s most popular car brands suffered sales drops well into the double digits last month. Ford Focus sales dropped 17.4% to 13,197. Mustang sales dropped 36.6% to 8,063. Fusion sales were off 19.5% to 16,697. The bright spot for Ford is that sales of its flagship F-series pickup were flat at 70,657. The F-Series are the best-selling vehicles in the United States.

Sales of some GM’s top-selling cars were also battered. Sales of the Malibu were down 20.2% to 17,364. Buick Enclave sales dropped 20.8% to 3,582. Full-sized pickup sales did not help GM as they did Ford. Silverado, the top-selling GM vehicle, suffered a sales drop of 19.7% to 40,154.

Fiat Chrysler did poorly across all of its model lines. Jeep sales dropped 17% to 68,879. Sales of inexpensive Jeeps dropped more. Compass sales were down 61% to 3,520. Patriot sales were off 53% to 4,939. Sales of Chrysler brand cars were troubled as well. Sales of the 200 series dropped 54% to 2,857. Sales of the 300 series were down 26% to 3,948. Fiat sales dropped 18% to 2,539. Fiat Chrysler’s full-sized pickup, its best-selling vehicle, more than held its own, with sales up 8% to 43,321. Generally, its sales lag behind those of the Chevy Silverado.

Finally, the top-selling foreign car manufacturer, Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM), barely did better than its U.S. counterparts. Toyota’s April sales fell 4.4% to 179,810 units. Some of its top-selling cars posted a poor month. Sales of the hybrid Prius dropped 18.6% to 9,708. Sales of the Avalon dropped 29.3% to 2,747. Toyota was helped somewhat because sales of other popular cars were off only slightly. Corolla sales fell 7.6% to 31,104. Camry sales dropped 7.7% to 31,428. Sales of Toyota’s Lexus luxury line dropped 11.1% to 22,116. As with its competitors, SUVs were a bright spot. Sales of its Highlander rose 19.6% to 17,981. 4Runner sales rose 2.9% to 10,428.

Even a modest dip in U.S. car sales would keep the annual number around 17 million, very near its high-water mark. 2017 may not be a record, but it is very fair from a disaster.