Why US Auto Sales Tumbled in April

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While analysts were expecting April light vehicle sales to post a seasonally adjusted average rate (SAAR) of 16.9 million units sold, U.S. consumers chose instead to sit on the wallets. Sales came in at a SAAR of 16.41 million units last month. That’s the lowest SAAR since February 2014, when U.S. consumers purchased just 15.54 million cars, pickups and sport utility vehicles.

Last April the sales rate totaled 17.25 million, and March 2019 sales totaled 17.42 million. April’s year-over-year decline marks the first time this year that 2019 sales fell below the level of the same month in 2018. Lower demand from retail customers was expected, but demand from fleet buyers also was unexpectedly soft.

As we noted in our report on forecast April sales, rising interest rates on car loans and surging prices for popular trucks and SUVs don’t necessarily mean big trouble for U.S. automakers. Neither Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) nor General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) reports monthly sales numbers, so the 194,219 units attributed to Ford (down 4.7% year over year) and the 231,701 units attributed to GM (down 2.6%) are estimates.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (NYSE: FCAU) reported 172,900 units sold last month, down 6.1% year over year. FCA said it would cease filing monthly sales reports later this year.

Overall, U.S. vehicle sales totaled 1.33 million in April, down from 1.36 million in April 2018. That’s a drop of 2.3%. Year to date, sales are down 3%, from 5.48 million last April to 5.32 million.

Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) reported sales of 183,866 units, down 4.4% year over year, while Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE: HMC) posted a gain of 0.1% with sales of 125,775. Nissan brand sales rose nearly 11% to 87,207, and Subaru sales rose 76.7% to 57,288.

Volkswagen brand sales rose 8.7% to 31,309 units, but including sales of Porsche, Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini brands, VW Group saw a decline of 3.7% to 51,752 units.

Mercedes-Benz brand sales dropped 14.6% to 25,631 units, and BMW sales fell 2.8% to 26,547 for the month.

Automotive News, the source of this data, also estimates that Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) sold 9,000 vehicles in April, a year-over-year increase of 16.9% from total sales of 7,700 last year.

Industry research firm ALG estimates the average transaction price for a new light-vehicle was $34,319 in April, up 2.9% year over year, while incentives as a percentage of the average transaction price came in at 10.2% last month.


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