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March U.S. Sales Sink to Long-Time Low SAAR

March U.S. Sales Sink to Long-Time Low SAAR

April’s SAAR is likely to spike upward from March, but because it is a rarity for two consecutive months to have more selling days than normal, averaging the totals for both months will be best to judge the period’s results.

U.S. light-vehicle sales climbed significantly over year-ago in March, based on the raw volume, but the daily selling rate declined for the first time since June 2015 and the final results were well below expectations.

March volume of 1.585 million units averaged 58,720 over the month’s 27 selling days, 4.7% below year-ago’s 61,593 and 25 selling days.

Perhaps more significant, the seasonally adjusted annual rate fell to 16.5 million units, lowest since February 2015’s 16.3 million and below 17 million for the first time since last April.

Based on DSRs most manufacturers recorded declines over year-ago, but BMW, Daimler, Kia, Mazda, Tesla (which is initially estimated), Toyota and Volkswagen/Audi each recorded year-over-year declines in actual volume, despite the extra selling days.

There were indications that the month ended on the weak side, partly caused by the Easter holiday occurring in the final weekend of the month and possibly reducing overall dealer traffic. Also, the year-over-year comparisons might have been a little tougher because the weather in January and February was relatively better than the previous two years when poor conditions led some purchases to be put off until March.

While trucks continued to climb, including record-March penetration of 57.9%, cars based on the DSR, tanked 13.4% – the largest year-over-year drop since August 2010. All three major segment groups – Small, Middle, Luxury – fell by double digits from March 2015.

Truck deliveries, although rising, did not soar as sales increased a tepid 2.9% year-over-year, the smallest gain since January 2014’s weather-beaten 2.6% rise.

Even the strongest segment group, CUVs, recorded their worst year-to-year increase (1%) in four years.

However, small and luxury CUVs, as well as the Small Pickup segment, continued to post hefty gains.

Small Vans, even though there were some big increases among smaller-volume nameplates primarily sold as commercial vehicles, recorded a 26.3% increase, mainly due to FCA’s minivans which went against weak year-ago volume caused by depleted inventories due to a temporary plant shutdown for retooling. The two other major players in the segment, Toyota and Honda, both posted declines.

The Large Van segment also posted strong year-over-year results, up 19.4% in March to top off a 25.9% rise in the first quarter. Segment share increased to 2.3% from 1.8% in March 2015.

Despite the slowdown, a major spike in the SAAR in April from March is likely, and will be a key to whether the year meets WardsAuto’s current forecast of 17.8 million units. As in March, volume will be unusually high in April due to extra selling days. In fact, because April ends on a weekend, volume for the month will include deliveries through May 2, thereby giving it five weekends of dealer traffic vs. the typical four.

Because it is a rarity for two consecutive months to have more selling days than normal, making it difficult to develop accurate factors to calculate the SAARs, averaging the totals for both March and April will be the best way to judge the period’s results.

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