Harvey and “Carmageddon”: GM, Toyota, Subaru Kick Butt. FCA, Nissan, Hyundai Get Crushed

It gets complicated. But there’s a curious tidbit about prices.

On August 24, as hurricane Harvey was barreling into one of the largest urban areas in the US, Kelley Blue Book forecast unperturbed that new-vehicle sales would rise 1.5% year-over-year in the US to a total of 1.53 million units, based largely on the fact that August had one more selling day than a year ago.

“August should be the first year-over-year increase of 2017,” it said bravely.

It wasn’t rose-colored optimism though. The Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR), which accounts for that extra selling day, would fall 3% year-over-year to 16.6 million units, it said.

But it was the eighth month in a row that forecasters were woefully unprepared for reality – though there was finally some good news from GM.

What we got…

  • Total new-vehicle sales declined 1.9% year-over-year to 1.483 million light vehicles, according to Autodata. This is the number of vehicles sold and delivered by dealers to their customers, or delivered by automakers directly to large fleet customers.
  • Despite that extra selling day, it was the eighth month in a row of year-over-year declines.
  • Year-to-date, total new-vehicle sales are down 2.7%.
  • Car sales dropped 8.5% to 549,749 vehicles. They’re down 11.3% year-to-date.
  • Truck sales – which include pickups, SUVs, compact SUVs, and vans – had been booming as Americans are shifting from cars to trucks, particularly to compact SUVs (“crossovers”). Trucks accounted for 63% of total retail sales. But that boom too has slowed down this year. In August truck sales inched up 2.4% — not even enough to account for that extra selling day — to 933,581.
  • SAAR, which takes that extra selling day into account, dropped 6.4% year-over-year to 16.1 million.

General Motors digs out of its hole.

GM’s car sales still plunged in August, but truck sales roared back to life, thanks to a slew of new SUV and compact SUV models that started taking off. Total sales jumped 7.4% year-over-year to 275,326. Year-to-date, total sales are still down 2.4%.

  • Trucks sales soared 16.5% year-over-year to 206,698 units, and are up 4.7% year-do-date.
  • Car sales, which had been in collapse mode (down 19.3% year-to-date) dropped 13.2% in August, to 68,628 vehicles.
  • By brand: Chevrolet +11.4% (96,007 units); GMC +12% (47,718 units); but Buick, which is almost dead in the US -23% (6,811 units); and Cadillac -8% (15,016 units).
  • Inventory on dealer lots dropped to 88 days’ supply, from 104 days at the end of July. That’s still well above 60 days’ supply that is considered the upper limit of healthy, but it’s a huge move in the right direction.

Ford got hit by plunging SUV sales.

Total sales fell 2.1% to 209,029 vehicles and are down 4.0% year to date. By brand: Ford -2.2% (201,189 units) and Lincoln -5.8% (8,708 units).

  • Car sales dropped 8.6% to 47,652 vehicles and are down 18.9% this year.
  • Truck sales edged up 0.1% to 161,377 units and are up 1.9% for the year. F-series are doing well, up 9% to 96,619 units. But the hot segment of SUVs is cratering, which should be a nerve-wrecking experience for Ford. SUV sales fell 11% to 65,626 units!
  • Ford ended the month with 67 days’ supply on dealer lots, up from 66 days in July.

Fiat-Chrysler loses it.

FCA US total sales dropped 10.6% to 176,033 and are down 7.7% for the year so far – going from bad to worse.

  • Car sales plunged 15.9% to 23,723 and are down 22.4% year-to-date. At this pace, FCA will soon give up on selling cars. None of its cars are made in the US anymore. And not even the Chinese automakers are interested in acquiring the car lines. All they want, if anything, is Jeep. Of FCA’s total sales in the US, cars account for only 13.4%.
  • But even truck sales plunged 9.7% to 152,310 and are down 4.9% for the year.

3 winners, 5 losers among other major automakers.

Toyota total sales rose 6.8% to 227,625 units, but remained down 1.3% for the year. It was once again the second largest auto seller in the US overall, behind GM and ahead of Ford.

  • Car sales dropped 7.2% to 92,912. But that’s nearly twice as many cars as Ford sold and 35% more than GM sold.
  • Truck sales soared 19.2% to 134,713 and are a up 9.3% for the year. At this pace, they may soon catch up with Ford truck sales.

Honda total sales declined 2.4% for the month to 146,015 and are down -0.5% for the year.

  • Car sales rose 2.6% to 75,354 but are down 4.3% for the year. Honda is the second largest car seller in the US, behind only Toyota.
  • Truck sales dropped 7.2% for the month to 70,661 but are up 3.5% for the year.

Nissan total sales plunged 13.1% for the month to 108,326, but are still up 0.1% for the year.

  • Car sales collapsed 18.8% to 46,900 and are down 12.3% year-to-date.
  • Truck sales dropped 8.1% to 61,462 but are up 14.7% year-to-date. This is a dizzying turn from July, when truck sales had been up 18.3%.

Subaru total sales rose 4.6% to 63,215, up 8.1% year-to-date. Car sales rose 9.0% to 34,864 and truck sales edged down to 28,351. Note that Subaru car sales are up 11% for the year: not every automaker suffers from plunging car sales!

Hyundai Motor Group, oh dearie! The conglomerate includes Hyundai and Kia. Kia was barely hanging on, with a sales decline of less than industry average. But Hyundai sales are still in collapse mode.

  • Hyundai total sales plummeted 24.6% to 54,310, by far the steepest crash of the major automakers. Year-to-date, sales are down 12.7%. Car sales collapsed 32.8% to just 33,079. Truck sales fell 6.8% to 21,231 units.
  • Kia total sales edged down 1.7% to 53,323 units, and are down 8.4% so far this year. Car sales rose 9.2% to 36,762, but truck sales plunged 19.5% to 16,561 and are down 18.9% year-to-date, in truck-focused America.

Volkswagen Group sales rose 6.1% to 52,112. This includes Audi, Volkswagen, Bentley, and Lamborghini. Year-to-date, sales are up 6%.

Daimler sales dropped 8.5% to 29,183 and are down 3.1% year-to-date.

BMW sales dropped 8.0% to 28,115 and were down 5.7% year-to-date. This includes BMW, Mini, and Rolls Royce. Rolls sales were up 73% to 114 cars. BMW was down 7.7% and Mini plunged 10.5%.

Here’s a curious tidbit about prices.

According to KBB’s estimates, incentives by automakers averaged over 10% of transaction prices and, as it said, “are helping support retail growth” – though the word “growth” may be the wrong term. But they do keep retail sales from falling faster.

Despite those huge incentives, the estimated average transaction price for light vehicles in August, at $34,648,  was up $243 or 0.7% from a year ago! This is the result of two factors: buyers shifting from cheaper cars to more expensive SUVs, and automakers slapping higher sticker prices on their vehicles.

And the impact of Hurricane Harvey on auto sales?

New-vehicle sales in the affected areas dropped essentially to zero for the last week in August. Given the size of the area, Harvey had a noticeable impact on national auto sales. But the fact that some automakers – particularly GM, Toyota, and Subaru – kicked butt while others got crushed shows that the overall sales decline wasn’t just Harvey’s fault, though it contributed to it.

For the first two weeks in September, sales in the area will remain at essentially zero before recovery begins. Eventually, the devastation will create hot demand for trucks and SUVs, and this will pose its own challenges. Here are my thoughts on how this might turn out. Read…  What will Harvey do to “Carmageddon?”

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  43 comments for “Harvey and “Carmageddon”: GM, Toyota, Subaru Kick Butt. FCA, Nissan, Hyundai Get Crushed

  1. AlbieOK says:

    It would be interesting to know where, geographically, car sales are doing better. If Toyota and Subaru are seeing increases in car sales, where are they coming from; city vs country; northeast vs south, etc?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The vast majority of Americans live in urban areas, so the vast majority of sales happen there. You can also see this by the size of the dealerships. Dealers in rural areas are relatively small compared to the vast dealerships in big metros.

      Geographically, there may be differences, but not between Ford and GM. It would be more between Ford and Subaru, for example.

      In the coastal areas of the West Coast, foreign brands (even if the vehicles are manufactured in the US, like Hondas) are doing very well, compared to domestic brands. I know that Toyota trucks and SUVs are doing very well in “Truck Country” (Texas, Oklahoma).

    • Larry says:

      While it is for 2016, it does paint a picture of where certain automakers do quite well.


      Tim Cain does a lot of articles on sales numbers at The Truth About Cars on a regular basis. Interesting stuff to peruse.

    • cd says:

      Seattle, Portland, Boise. Denver are good Subaru towns..

  2. michael Engel says:

    Aug 24 again ?
    Last time, Aug 24 2015 was a hit#1, followed by hit #2 & hit #3 in
    Jan & Feb 2016.
    In Aug 24 2017, Houston hurricane created a new Bismarck.
    Opportunities for Bismarck #1, #2 and #3 will follow.

  3. T.J., not the real TJ says:

    What do you think the # cars totaled out will be? I’ve read 500k-1.1M.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The real question for the auto industry is: How many flood cars will be replaced by NEW vehicles?

      My estimate is that 800,000 vehicles were flood damaged. A portion of them were totaled by insurance companies – if owners carried comprehensive insurance. Many of those totaled vehicles will be replaced by used vehicles because the insurance company just pays for replacement value or repairs.

      Uninsured vehicles may be fixed by owners or sold and replaced by used vehicles.

      My guess was and still is – though it may change as data materializes – that a total of 300,000 flood vehicles will be replaced by new vehicles.

      • Gershon says:

        The people in the low-lying areas that were hit hardest by Harvey don’t generally look creditworthy enough to be driving new cars, unless the automakers and banks get their political toadies on Capital Hill to ram another “cash for clunkers” type scam on taxpayers.

      • alex in san jose says:

        … And how many flooded cars will be replaced by NEW bicycles? As I’ve detailed in another thread, I kind of experienced a “lite” version of what flood victims went through in the crash of 08. Not nearly the trauma, of course, but I did lose my apartment, car, business, most of my possessions, I tried to get back into car ownership, I really tried. First was a beat-up Toyota van I had fantasies of taking things to the local swap meet in, which my friend bought for me for the princely sum of $400, that I was to pay back. At $5/month in the economy in flyover country where I’d fled to, that was not going to happen. But I’m being unfair – I could make a couple hundred a month during tourist season… Later, back in civilization/California, I bought a Volvo wagon that lived a short while and then died. I never was able to figure out what was wrong with it; I might as well have taken $2500 cash and burned it.

        So I am a confirmed bicycle owner now. Every time I ride my bicycle around to go downtown etc. I gloat internally that I’ve cheated the VTA (valley transit authority) out of $6 for a day pass, this is what the economics for probably 80% of the population where I am has come to, and we don’t even have a flood figured in (although a few months ago we actually did have Katrina-style flooding in a part of central San Jose, an event the media has decided, since it’s Silicon Valley after all, “LA-LA-LA-LA-CAN’T HAPPEN HERE…..!!”)

  4. Halsey Taylor says:

    Quality got paid. Junk got slayed.

  5. Gershon says:

    Subarus (AWD) are huge in states like Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming that get a lot of snow. Although the brand’s previous excellent reputation has been tarnished lately by premature engine wear and excessive oil consumption due to defective rings in some models and reliability issues with CVT transmissions in some newer models. The Subaru forums are aflame with previously loyal customers who are highly agitated at these issues.

    • dos tacos mas says:

      We spend Summers in the mountains outside of Boulder, CO. and Subaru dominates the local car market. It’s even a bit of a joke in Nederland, CO – bumperstickers that say “A dog in every Subaru” – and they’re not joking!


    • TJ Martin says:

      Add to that list all of New England where Subaru pretty much established its first significant beachhead in the US with its 4WD/AWD cars , the Pacific Northwest , Northern California with them now making major inroads into markets such as the South East etc where previously they went unnoticed

      As for the issues having multiple family members that own them ( and in fact if their seats fit my 6’4″ 175 60 + body I’d own one myself ) … suffice it to say their problems are worse than a few … but a helluva a lot better than the majority but regardless everyone in the industry is green with envy over the level of customer loyalty Subaru has created for themselves . Fact is beyond the delusional Land/Range Rover minions I’d say no one else even comes close

      And yeah … as do tacos mas commented …. come to Colorado … land of the wall to wall Subaru heaven .. where no matter where you turn there’s a Subaru ( or ten ) to be seen

      TJ Martin … the real TJ Martin … and thanks T.J. for making the distinction clear

      And they sure do a helluva job marketing . Choosing the ” Nicest people drive a Subaru ‘ tactic over the blatant macho bs coming from just about everyone else .

    • Wilbur58 says:

      Um, noticeably absent from this list would be Portland, OR. I swear, it’s like every fifth car is a Subaru. I turned it into a game with my family during a visit. I said, let’s see if we can count 50 Subarus by the end of the day. It took an hour.

      I imagine Seattle is likely similar.

  6. Gershon says:

    Off topic, but love seeing Wolf’s articles picked up by other widely-read financial media news sites.


  7. Toyota TRD says:

    Why would people buy Ford Pinto ? Quality matters

  8. Colin says:

    Last month’s retail spending had auto’s doing much better even though new vehicle sales were basically flat. You have an incredible amount of weakness(restaurants, retail, gasoline demand, new car sales, movies doing very poorly this Summer, and even home sales were hammered last month). Is there reason to believe they lie about consumer spending, and the many groups giving jobs numbers are also lying?

    • Gershon says:

      Colin, my simple friend, you are sadly mistaken. You see, Auntie Janet at the Fed assures us that our debt-fueled economic expansion continues apace, and that our Keynesian central planners and central bankers have put us on the path to permanent prosperity with the trickle-down effects of turning billionaires into trillionaires and off-shoring our manufacturing base.

      So let’s turn that frown upside down, shall we?

  9. Realist says:

    Interesting that cars are loosing ground while Urban Assault Veichles are gaining compared to cars. Apparently the price of gas has a lot to do with it ? Maybe current gas prices cause people to forget the joy of owning a gas guzzler when gas is expensive.

    Maybe Wolf might be able to dig forth some some data from countries with considerably taxation on fuel ( most European countries ) and do some comparision with US data ?

    • Suzie Alcatrez says:

      Gas guzzlers??

      Even the Ford Explorer is rated at 27 mpg on the highway.

      • Realist says:

        Yeah, on the highway, what is fuel consumption in city traffic ? Btw, 27 mpg on the highway is a lot from my perspective, +40 mpg is more like it

      • Carlada says:

        LOL. 17-18 average in reality.

      • RangerOne says:

        Good luck getting any where near that mileage with normal driving.

        • Realist says:

          A normal warm summerday with A/C running etc results in such mpg with my car on the highway, a large, french made family sedan with a nice 140 hp engine.

        • alex in san jose says:

          Long ago in a galaxy far, far away … I had an apartment and a small business and all the trapping of non-“homeless lite” life, and a Prius.

          When I got it, I was getting about 61-62 MPG. I’d been used to riding a bicycle for a few months, and having a car again was great, because my business involved carrying things. But over time, I noticed the mileage going down. It gradually edged down into the mid-high 40s which is what the EPA, responding to pissed-off drivers’ demands, eventually rated the Prius at.

          Thinking like a good electronics technician, I decided to isolate the problem. Maybe the car had special tires, which were wearing out. Maybe it was the gas, or the battery pack, somehow. I decided there was one factor I could change: the driver.

          I started thinking ahead more, and driving more smoothly. I never became a “slug” slowing traffic down, instead I went back to thinking like a bicyclist, aiming for smooth flow. And lo and behold, my mileage crept back up to 62 and change, and it even stayed there after I lost everything (but the Prius before I handed it over the the repo guys) and fled to my friend’s in Arizona where he lived at about a mile elevation.

          In fact I even got a speeding ticket since Arizona is really anal about speeding, and the cop asked me about the car, how it was, and I said the car gets good mileage but any car’s mileage can be increased by 15 or 20 percent by driving smoothly, “even your cop car”.

      • Frederick says:

        My Jeep Cherokee with a V6 and automatic was a pig Never got anywhere near 27 mpg And yes here in Turkey I’m paying roughly 5 USD a gallon It’s painful so we use an electric scooter for local stuff and drive a lot less

  10. raxadian says:

    People is not that stupid, they know the US imports a lot of oil and the Venezuela crisis will mean less oil imported to the US and that means fuel prices will rise.

    Not to mention that like it or not, a lot of people doesn’t have faith in the current government. So that means they are unsure about their future, would you buy a car that wants fuel badly if you don’t know if you will still have a job in the next few months?

    • Realist says:

      Some sources claim that Venezuela ( read PDVSA ) is even more deeper in dodo after Harvey, because they have been importing crude from the USA. These sources claim that they need WTI type crude in the refining process due to Venezoelan heavy crude has to be diluted before refining …. and as long as US oil terminals are partially off line, the Venezoelans do have certain additional problems to cope with.

  11. Drango says:

    Toyota and Honda need a weak Yen to sell cars at a profit in this country, and that includes cars they assemble here, because the profits must eventually be repatriated back to Japan. Japan’s central bank goes to the ridiculous extremes it does almost solely to keep the Yen weak, despite claims that its all about “stimulus.” Japanese car companies couldn’t compete if the Yen were allowed to settle to its natural rate. The fact that Ford and GM are still able to compete worldwide, despite the preference of Wall Street for a “strong” dollar, says a lot about the way they have adapted to an environment where the U.S. Government sometimes actively works against American manufacturers. Someday there will be a president who is more devoted to American workers and companies than doing favors for “allies,” although it looks like Trump will not, and “world class” companies like Honda and Toyota will be the ones closing factories and laying off workers, because in reality they are some of the biggest corporate welfare queens in the world.

  12. Altandmain says:

    A big question is, among those whose vehicles were written off, how many people can actually afford to replace them?

    Houston had a lot of people living at the economic margins before even the hurricane struck. For many of them, while a car remains a necessity, they may not have the money to replace it very easily.

    Keep in mind, not everyone had total coverage for insurance for the loss of their vehicles. Many have lost their properties, their jobs, their businesses, and other sources of income. Unless they have adequate savings or other sources of income to fall back on, they will not be buying a new car.

    I think that perhaps less than half of the cars destroyed will be replaced by new ones.

    Also, Subaru is quite popular here in Canada as well.

  13. Matt says:

    Subaru is the anti-SUV SUV. So its increase in sales comports with all the other evidence that the market is moving away from cars (or rather the perception of cars).

  14. Matt says:

    If wages have been stagnant for 80% of workers over the last 20 years or so, then the average transaction price of $34k is too high. In the last half of the 1900’s it was just above $20k. The $14k increase, therefore, could have only come from financial engineering. Low rates are here to stay, so it doesn’t need to fall all the way back. But a substantial reduction seems necessary for any recovery.

    • Max Power says:

      Even more than low rates, it’s the extension of the payment period that’s allowing folks to afford these more expensive cars. Seems like a generation ago most car loans were for 36 months. Nowadays almost two thirds of car loans are for 60 months or greater and this statistic has been rising steadily.

      Also leasing has become more popular over the years.

  15. Matt says:


    • alex in san jose says:

      Don’t feel bad, when I first came to the Bay Area I bought a Saturn Ion, and about a year later I got a letter from the DMV saying that since my car was a 1903 model, I’d not need a smog test.

  16. Paul's4x4 says:

    34k is just to much opportunity cost. That’s my Master’s Degree education!?

    My $1400 beaters all last at least a year and need little care. That’s less than the insurance on these things.

    It’s like motorcycles, a good pick and you can go 7 years on a 1k bike… So why pay Harley 20!? Honda gets you out the door for 5 (oddly enough those are the models they cut…)

    I know this industry well, and SEMA gives the demographics out… I think they are over priced by a mile and they are starting to learn that.

    Right now it’s aspirational buyers. And tirer kickers gained a magical power to raise prices since the recession in classics… But folks are starting to learn people thinking and saying it’s worth money… (money talk, b* walk)

  17. Bobber says:

    I find it interesting the prices of new cars and trucks haven’t really dropped yet. If they continue in their attempts to keep the prices high, they’ll have to reduce supply and implement some layoffs.

    Although they have increased the rebates, the sticker prices seem to have increased by the same amount or more. Thus, I think the “rebates” may be a sales tactic and not a meaningful price reduction. Caveat – this is based on my perception of advertised auto prices, rather than hard data.

  18. Gershon says:

    Harvey may have wrecked up to a million cars, though many will end up being fraudulently resold to buyers far from Houston.


  19. Alvin says:

    I kept reading your articles about Carmageddon, and bought a new Hyundai Elantra. MSRP was $20300. Also $1260 of overpriced dealer add ons, (Tint, pin striping, door guards, scotchguard, “superwax” etc.) The base model had auto, tilt, cruise, pwr windows/locks and a 147 hp 2.0 liter engine (2016 was 1.8.) Upgrades included premium sound w/7 inch screen, back up camera, heated electric mirrors, 16 inch aluminum wheels. Pretty pearl red 4 dr sedan. 28 city/37 hwy.
    $14999 + ttl. The 2 and 3yr old ones weren’t a good value compared to a new one. So….. Thank you much for the info.

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