Blame it on the government shutdown, tax-refund jitters, a spate of inclement weather across the U.S. or a combination of it all, but industry sales took a breather last month and FCA US saw strong recent demand for its products finally wane in February.
The Italian-American automaker’s light-vehicle sales last month slipped 2% to 161,325 units from 164,556 in the same period last year, according to Wards Intelligence, snapping an 11-month streak of sales gains on the back of brisk demand within its Ram and Jeep portfolios.
Industry sales fell to an 11-month low seasonally adjusted annual rate of an estimated 16.6 million, with the outlook calling for a mild rebound over the coming months. There were 24 selling days in the month, same as last year.
“The overall industry is starting off slower due in part to weather, the U.S. government shutdown and concern over tax refunds,” FCA US sales chief Reid Bigland says in a statement. “We still see a strong, stable economy and anticipate any lost winter sales will be made up in the spring.”
FCA’s bread-and-butter brands still provided robust results in February. Ram sales soared 26.7% to 44,831 units from 35,390 last year on the strength of Ram 1500 pickup sales, which grew 22.8% to 39,239 copies of the newly redesigned truck from 31,952 year-ago. The result also includes a number of previous-generation models remaining in production.
Jeep brand sales tumbled 4.2%, but still pushed 67,075 units out dealer doors compared with 70,020 in the same period last year. Grand Cherokee sales improved a healthy 3.1% to 18,009 units from 17,468 year-ago, while deliveries of the smaller Cherokee rose 31% to 16,020 units from 12,225 last year.
However, Jeep Wrangler sales cooled 5.9% to 15,001 units from 15,936 last year. FCA says the result reflects a normalization in Wrangler sales, which had been enjoying the 1-2 punch of both a redesigned and previous-generation model in the market simultaneously.
If any question remained whether Ram and Jeep would remain the backbone of FCA in America, the automaker put those to rest this week announcing a $4.5 billion investment program in Michigan for the next-generation Grand Cherokee and an all-new 3-row Jeep SUV. The investment also will support the redesign of other Jeep models, including electrified variants, and continued output of Ram pickups.
Sales of Chrysler products in February retreated 35.8% to 10,368 units from 16,150 in the same period last year, due mostly to weak sedan demand for the 300 large car and discontinued 200 midsize car in a market overwhelmingly favoring trucks and crossovers. But sales of the venerable Pacifica minivan also faltered 31.6% to 7,854 units from 11,482 last year.
Activity at FCA’s car-centric Dodge, Fiat and Alfa Romeo brands also reflected the market’s mix shift.
Dodge sales fell 7.7% to 37,073 units from 40,187 in the same period last year, despite a resounding month for its sole crossover, the Journey. Journey buyers faithfully snapped up 8,258 copies, an improvement of 72.7% from last year’s 4,782.
Fiat sales were cut in half to 616 units from 1,241 last year, while Alfa deliveries slipped 13.1% to 1,362 units from 1,568.
So far this year, FCA sales are slightly ahead of year ago at 296,721 units, a difference of 269 vehicles.