U.S. light-vehicle sales in April bounced back from a dip in the seasonally adjusted annual rate in March, yet are showing signs the industry could be hitting its cyclical peak since demand bottomed out during the 2009 recession.
Some seasonally strong months still are ahead, so it could be premature to say sales growth is plateauing, but results have flattened somewhat since hitting 18 million-plus SAARs in September-November 2015.
April’s SAAR of 17.3 million units was well ahead of year-ago’s 16.7 million and an improvement on March’s 16.5 million – the first month since April 2015 the SAAR fell below 17 million. However, March-April’s combined 17.0 million SAAR is below January-February’s 17.4 million.
The year-to-date SAAR, which might be more indicative of the underlying strength of the industry, is 17.5 million units through April, well above 4-month 2015’s 16.7 million.
Actual volume was favorably impacted by the month having a higher number of selling days than usual and included the first business day in May. It totaled 1.5 million units vs. like-2015’s 1.45 million. The daily sales rate over the month’s 27 selling days was 55,453, 0.5% below year-ago’s 55,717 (26 days).
Interestingly, the growth that has occurred in the past two months has been centered on the traditional truck models: SUVs, up 6.3%; vans (23.8%); and pickups (7.6%). Except for the SUVs and the Small Van segment, growth in those sectors suggests a lot of volume going to commercial fleets and to individuals for work-related purposes.
The more carlike CUV group, while still growing, recorded lower year-over-year gains in March and April of 0.9% and 3.3%, respectively, when compared with double-digit gains in most months over the past four years.
Together, the bread-and-butter segment groups, including Middle CUVs and Small and Middle Cars, faltered for the second straight month in April. The exception among the mainstream segments was Small CUVs, with sales up 57%.
A huge increase in Small Vans, which mostly is made up of passenger minivans in April (29%) and year-to-date (32%), comes with a caveat. The rise occurred only because a year ago FCA, the leader in the segment, had weak sales due to a lack of inventory caused by a re-tooling shutdown at the plant building its products. Less FCA, Small Van deliveries increased just 4.2% from year-ago in April.
Deliveries in the more commercial-oriented Large Van segment rose 16.7% and market penetration of 2.4% was the highest for any month since October 2006.
All car segments, as they have more-or-less been doing for a couple years as consumers moved to CUVs and other trucks, dropped sharply in April, and share posted an all-time low for the month of 40.7%. In fact, car penetration in each month beginning with last August has recorded an individual low.
Also, deliveries of Middle CUVs, which have become the largest segment, fell 6.8% in April, and market share slid to 17.3% from year-ago’s 18.5%. After Middle CUV sales in March fell year-over-year for the first time in over four years, they declined again in April, the first 2-month shortfall since 2009.
Sales of Middle Luxury and Large Luxury CUVs remain strong, with sales up 9.0% and 33.0%, respectively, in April.
In total, car sales fell 9.4% in April from year-ago, their sixth straight decline, while trucks increased 6.8% for their 68th straight rise.
Manufacturers posting gains in the month included FCA US, Honda, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Volvo. Toyota’s results were flat with year-ago and declines were recorded by BMW, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Jaguar-Land Rover, Porsche, Tesla – which is initially estimated – and Volkswagen.