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Big Trucks Spark U.S. Light-Vehicle Sales to Start 2015

Big Trucks Spark U.S. Light-Vehicle Sales to Start 2015

Sales in the Large and Large-Luxury SUV segments, spurred by monster gains at GM, increased 64% from year-ago, while Large Pickups increased market penetration for the sixth straight month

U.S. light-vehicle sales started 2015 by continuing the growth that has led to 59 year-over-year increases in the last 62 months, based on daily selling rates.

January’s seasonally adjusted annual rate of 16.6 million units was slightly higher than expected thanks to better results at FCA US (formerly Chrysler) and Ford. It was down from December’s 16.8 million, but well above same-month 2014’s 15.2 million.

Sales totaled 1.146 million, equal to a daily selling rate over the month’s 26 selling days of 44,074, 9.3% above year-ago’s 40,308 – 25 selling days.

With deliveries through Feb. 2 included in January’s results, bad weather in the Midwest at the end of the sales period appeared to have a negligible impact on demand. However, any lost sales are likely to be picked up quickly in February.

The year-over-year increase was skewed higher due to the year-ago month’s results getting hammered from extreme winter conditions. The bad weather last year continued into February, meaning year-over-year comparisons for the current month also could be jacked up.

Demand picked up in the latter half of January after a slow start that likely was due to year-end holiday specials pulling more volume than usual into December.

Although fleet deliveries enhanced results to a small degree at the two market leaders, General Motors and Ford, they did not appear to have much of an overall impact on the industry. Incentives, based on reporting from third-party sources, also did not significantly sway the industry total one way or another.

Despite some red flags in international economic news, U.S. indicators continued to favor demand in January.

Light trucks surged in January with sales up 14.4% from year-ago, while cars gained just 3.7%. Light-truck penetration of 55.1% was the highest for the month in 11 years.

Surging demand for big trucks was a key part.

Large pickups, SUVs, CUVs and vans (including luxury segments) combined for a January gain of 17.2% over year-ago. Combined share was 19.2%, compared with like-2014’s 18.0%, making the highest for the month since 19.4% in 2011.

Already low fuel prices that continued falling in January played a part in rising truck volumes. However, new product also had played an important role in booming demand for large trucks.

Sales in the Large and Large-Luxury SUV segments, spurred by monster gains by GM’s redesigned products, increased 64% from year-ago. Large Pickups, with relatively new product at GM and some redesigned Ford F-150s creeping into the mix, increased sales 12.3% over year-ago, and share (11.9%) rose for the sixth straight month.

Additionally, sales in the Large CUV segment increased 20% from year-ago.

The Large Van segment was up 14.0% thanks to fresh product, including a 150% spike by the Ram ProMaster, 36% rise by the Nissan NV and 12% jump by the Mercedes Sprinter. Also, the new Ford Transit boosted Ford’s large-van sales 25%.

The CUV group extended its long streak of sales gains and record market share. Deliveries increased 12.4% from year-ago in January, and market penetration tipped in at 28.8%, compared with like-2014’s 28.0%.

Middle CUVs, the industry’s largest segment, increased sales 12% from year-ago. There were no surprises among the gainers and losers, except for the Honda Pilot.

Honda’s January sales increased 7.2% over year-ago in large part due to the Pilot, which nearly doubled its volume after a 14% decline in 2014. The vehicle is well along in its current lifecycle and Honda could be paring inventory prior to the debut of the redesigned ’16 model this summer.

Less Pilot, Honda’s January sales increased 1.2%.

Sales of SUVs rocketed to a 25% increase. Besides big gains from the large versions, Small SUVs were up 18% and Middle SUVs increased 12%. Middle SUVs were led by huge increases for the Ford Explorer and Toyota 4Runner.

Car sales were hurt by continuing declines in the Large and Luxury segments. But even though sales of Small and Middle Cars increased year-over-year in January, those two segment groups still recorded declines in market penetration from like-2014.

There were some bright spots among cars. Upper Small sales increased 13% from year-ago, although fleet or incentive activity apparently played a role for some vehicles in the segment.

January sales in the Middle Specialty segment zoomed 56% over year-ago, thanks to the redesigned Dodge Challenger (up 80%) and Ford Mustang (115%).

Sales of luxury vehicles, cars and trucks, increased a tepid 4% over year-ago in January, and share dropped to 12.4% from 13.0%. Luxury trucks, which have spurred luxury sales as cars have declined, increased 13% from year-ago and penetration was 5.6% vs. like-2014’s 5.4%. Luxury cars fell 1.5% from year-ago and share declined to 6.9% from 7.6%.

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