January US auto sales up 1 pct., but full-year drop expected

Associated Press

January's U.S. auto sales were a little better than a year ago, but most analysts and automakers predict a small full-year decline despite economic factors that favor the industry.

Automakers reported a 1 percent increase last month to 1.15 million vehicles, according to Autodata Corp.

But Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, the country's largest dealership group, said late-model used cars coming off leases are pulling buyers from higher-priced new vehicles. Despite tax reform, low unemployment and strong consumer confidence, he sees new-car sales falling to 16.8 million from last year's 17.2 million.

During the past few years, automakers pushed leasing to around 30 percent of sales. Now, Jackson says 4 million well-equipped used cars will be available for an average price of $25,000. "You have to say 'who is going to buy all these things when they come back?'" Jackson said. "Of course there's going to be a cannibalization and a substitution."

Car sales fell nearly 11 percent while truck and SUV sales were up 8 percent. Here are the numbers released by automakers Thursday:

— Honda Motor Co. said sales were down 1.7 percent to 104,542. Truck and SUV sales fell 2.5 percent while cars were off just under 1 percent. The CR-V small SUV, in the hottest part of the market, saw a 16.9 percent sales drop.

— Hyundai Motor Co. sales fell 11.3 percent from last year's record January, to 39,629. The car-heavy Korean automaker saw Sonata midsize sedan sales tumble 23.7 percent.

— Nissan Group sales rose 10 percent to 123,538, a January record. Sales were led by the Rogue small SUV, which was up nearly 26 percent to more than 36,000. Nissan brand sales rose 12 percent but Infiniti luxury sales dropped 8 percent.

— Ford Motor Co. sales fell 6.6 percent to 161,143, due in part to a decline in sales to rental car fleets. But its average vehicle sales price hit a record $37,000, largely due to a 1.6 percent sales increase for the higher priced F-Series pickup. Car sales were down 23.3 percent.

General Motors Co. sales rose 1 percent to 198,548. Buick and Chevrolet posted gains, but GMC and Cadillac saw lower sales. GM's best-seller, the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, saw a 14.5 percent jump. A new Silverado goes on sale later this year, so GM is discounting the outgoing truck.

Toyota Motor Corp. posted a 16.8 percent increase to 167,056 vehicles on strong demand for the RAV4, Highlander and 4Runner SUVs, which hit January sales records. Sales of the revamped Camry midsize car rose 21.3 percent, bucking the SUV trend.

— Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sales were down 13 percent due to reduced sales to fleet buyers. The company sold nearly 133,000 vehicles, led by a 2 percent increase in Jeep sales. But the Chrysler brand fell 21 percent while Dodge was off 31 percent and Fiat dropped 43 percent. The Ram truck brand fell 16 percent.

Subaru posted a 1.1 percent gain to 44,357 vehicles on record January sales of Crosstrek and Outback SUVs.

— Volkswagen sales were up 5.2 percent to 24,744. Combined sales of the new Atlas large SUV and Tiguan small SUV hit 10,640, accounting for 43 percent of VW's sales.

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This story has been corrected to show that last year's auto sales were 17.2 million.

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