Silver Linings in the US Auto Market

With September numbers reported and three quarters in the books for 2019, the US auto market has its share of challenges and silver linings.

At first glance, September was looking like a market setback. As import automakers reported (one day prior to domestics), a few noteworthy big brands posted moderate to large volume contractions. When the final tally came in, a different picture came into focus.

While September’s SAAR of 17.2M units was slightly off year-to-year (-0.8%), 2019’s Q3 came in stronger than 2018’s, and year-to-date totals are down only 1%, in line with many projections. Additionally, this September marked one of those years where the Labor Day holiday was included with August’s monthly reporting and not September’s, a notable anomaly in the calendar that can blur one’s read on the market.

So while September’s numbers were off (laggards among major brands include Toyota, Ford and Dodge), there are also notable silver linings and explanations for the data.

Light-trucks continued a long-standing trend of gaining ground in overall market share, still accounting for more than 70% of all light vehicles sold.  In general, Asia-Pacific brands coughed up share during the third quarter to their US and European competition.

Some key points from the 3rd Quarter:

  • The YTD 16.98M SAAR for the entire US Market is off -1.0% versus the first nine months of 2018.
  • Ram (+14.6%), GMC (+11.4%) and Mercedes-Benz (+15.4%) posted the largest year-over-year increases among major brands during Q3.
  • Toyota (-13.2%), Ford (-5.8%), Dodge (-4.3%), and Lexus (-6.1%) were the big laggards.
  • Passenger car sales still languish, as light trucks now represent over 70% of new vehicle sales. This continues a multi-year trend.
  • The hottest segment is again Crossovers, accounting for 40.3% of the US market. Pickups are the second-largest segment at 17.5%.
  • Asia Pacific imports lost share but still outsold domestics, 46.1% to 44.8% of the total market.
  • While concerns still linger for an overall automotive slowdown, through nine months the market is on pace with projections of 16.7M to 16.9M units, a slight contraction from 2018.

There is still uncertainty on interest rates, and new-car transaction prices are still hovering near historic peaks. We’ll continue to see a very high saturation of late model off-lease returns. That said, NADA is holding firm to its projection of 16.8M units for full-year 2019.


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SAAR: Seasonally adjusted annualized (sales) rate.
Source: ESA Car Keys 360 Data Studio. NADA Market Beat | July 2019.

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