U.S. vehicle sales mostly keep on truckin’ in 2018 despite lower expectations

The much-anticipated 2018 vehicle sales slump hasn’t happened yet. Now the question may be whether it will happen at all this year.

Despite predictions by many auto industry analysts that this would be a down year compared to 2017, U.S. vehicle sales keep on truckin’ in 2018 – thanks mostly to pickup and SUV sales.

Sales in five out of eight months through August exceeded same-month results in 2017.

Photo credit: Ford Motor Co. via NewsPress USA Ford F-Series and other pickups and SUVs are towing U.S. sales higher than expected.

Photo credit: Ford Motor Co. via NewsPress USA
Ford F-Series and other pickups and SUVs are towing U.S. sales higher than expected.

 

If sales continue at just over last year’s level for the last four months of the year, they actually would eke out a margin of around 170,000 vehicles over 2017 sales. That would be a 1 percent gain and put the year nearly on par with record-setting 2016 and 2015.

That also would not be a result anyone saw coming at the beginning of the year, with most analysts predicting a dip under 17 million and as low as 16.7 million.

For example, Cox Automotive recently raised its forecast to 17.1 million from 16.7 million in sales, matching forecasts of General Motors and LMC Automotive.

Here’s how the numbers could look for the rest of this year, based on data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis:

  • If sales for the remainder of 2018 match the last four months of last year, vehicle sales could exceed 17.7 million, although those results included a record September.
  • Results will come close to 2015 and 2016 if sales this year match the end of those years.
  • If the last four months of 2018 match sales during the same period of 2014, this year still would top 17 million for the fourth time since then.
  • It would take the worst results since 2013 to come in as low as 16.8 million.

Although car sales have declined to less than 30 percent of total sales for the first time in history, trucks and SUVs are more than making up the difference so far in 2018.

The top-five selling models so far this year, for example, all are trucks or SUVs – Ford F-Series, Ram Pickup, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Honda CR-V, with four of five selling more than last year. Pickups and SUVs also dominate the top 20 vehicles with 13, most of which also have more sales. The only passenger cars among the top-10-selling vehicles – Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla family and Honda Accord – have lower sales compared to last year.

There is potential turbulence ahead, such as tariffs, trade talks, gas-price uncertainty, vehicle-price increases, higher interest rates and lower consumer confidence.

“Despite generally good conditions, automakers are in for a rough finish to 2018,” Forbes magazine suggested based on an interview with a senior economist from Cox Automotive.

But that prediction has a tone similar to expert forecasts at the beginning of the year.

And we see how those have worked out.

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