U.S. new-vehicle dealers sold 1,328,649 cars and light trucks in April, a 2.3% year-over-year decline and a full 3% loss to start the year compared with the first four months of 2018, according to manufacturer reports and estimates compiled by Automotive News.
Forecasters who predicted the year’s first big gain were roundly disappointed. The slow start to 2019 knocked the seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate down to 16.4 million. That’s the lowest SAAR since February 2014 and a weak start to the traditionally reliable spring sales season.
Experts blamed escalating average transaction prices — a 2019 high of $36,718 in April, according to Edmunds — as well as the usual suspects of higher interest rates and rapidly declining interest in cars. Sales of sedans, coupes, and hatchbacks were down 7.9% year-over-year; light truck sales increased by 0.3%.
“Robust employment conditions and a strong stock market didn’t seem to be enough to lift sales last month,” said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive. “Market forecasters have been expecting the market to slow as higher vehicle prices and higher borrowing costs squeeze many potential buyers. And indeed, the sales lion that surprised many in March became a much weaker lamb in April, as revealed in today’s numbers.
“Prior to April, retail sales had been in decline while fleet showed gains. Fleet activity, however, appears to have slowed in April, bucking the trend we saw in the first quarter,” Chesbrough added; fleet sales totaled 325,000 units for the month, 2.6% more than in April 2018.
Among the nation’s largest-volume producers, Fiat Chrysler (-6.1%), Ford (-4.7%), Toyota (-4.4%), and General Motors (-2.6%) fell hardest. FCA felt the burn of tapering Jeep sales (-7.6%) and losses in its Chrysler (-37%), Fiat (-34%), and Dodge (-24%) divisions; however, Ram sales improved by a full 25%. Mini (-30%), Audi (-21%), and Mazda and Mercedes-Benz (both -15%) also suffered notable declines.
The runaway winner in year-over-year sales was Genesis, which enjoyed a 56% gain in April, followed by Land Rover (11%), Nissan (9%), Subaru (7.7%), and Jaguar (6.3%).
Honda, Nissan, and Subaru led increased incentive spending for the month, averaging 17.5% more than a year ago, but ALG and J.D. Power both reported reduced incentives industrywide.
This story originally appeared in Auto Dealer Today, another Bobit Business Media publication.