Which Automakers Got Crushed, Which Boomed?

Hurricane Harvey and highest discounts in US history did the trick.

After eight months in a row of year-over-year sales declines, September was finally the month everyone has been waiting for. It was powered by sharply higher fleet sales and soaring truck sales, much of it related to Hurricane Harvey, and it was fueled by the highest incentives ever in the history of US auto sales. GM, Ford, and Toyota were the biggest winners. Fiat-Chrysler and Hyundai got crushed.

What we got…

  • Total new vehicle sales rose 6.1% year-over-year to 1.52 million units (sold and delivered by dealers to their customers, or delivered by automakers directly to large fleet customers).
  • Year-to-date sales are still down 1.8%. Despite the 88,174-unit sales gain in September, year-to-date sales remain down by 232,614 units compared to last year.
  • Sales of cars fell 3.3%. The relentless decline continues, as Americans are shifting from cars to trucks, particularly small SUVs (crossovers). Year-to-date, car sales are down 10.5%.
  • Sales of trucks – pickups, SUVs, crossovers, and vans – soared 12.4% to 967,547 units, accounting for 63.4% of total sales. Year-to-date, truck sales are up 4.4%.
  • The seasonally adjusted sales rate (SAAR) rose to 18.6 million vehicles in September, the highest by far over the past 12 months.
  • Incentives averaged $4,048 per vehicle in September, the highest ever, according to research firm J.D. Power.

General Motors sells trucks, but forget cars.

GM’s total sales jumped 11.8% in September to 279,176 units but are still down 0.8% year-to-date.

  • Car sales are still in collapse mode, plunging 11.4% for the month to 67,089 units. They’re down 18.4% for the year so far.
  • Trucks sales soared 21.9% to 212,087 units, and are up 6.7% year-do-date.
  • By brand: Chevrolet +17% (199,801); GMC +9% (47,329); but Buick, which is moribund in the US, -20% (16,737); and Cadillac +1% (15,530).
  • Inventory on dealer lots dropped to 76 days’ supply at the end of September, from 88 days in August and 104 days in July. That’s still above 60 days’ supply, considered the upper limit of healthy, but it’s moving in the right direction.

Ford F-series trucks shine, the rest not so much.

Total sales rose 8.9% to 221,643 vehicles, though they remain down 2.7% year to date. Mark LaNeve, Ford’s VP of sales and service, pointed at post-hurricane replacement sales: in the Houston metro, Ford dealers sold 5,000 vehicles more than a year ago. That’s 27% of Ford’s national sales gain of 18,200 vehicles.

  • Truck sales jumped 12.3% to 171,725 units and are up 3.0% for the year, with SUV sales edging up 1.8% to 68,705 vehicles (after dropping 11% in August!), and with F-series trucks soaring 19.9% to 103,625 units.
  • Car sales dropped 1.3% to 49,918 vehicles and are down 17.3% year to date.
  • Retail sales rose 4.4% to 169,544 units. Fleet sales soared 25% to 52,704 units.

Fiat-Chrysler gets crushed.

FCA US total sales dropped 9.7% to 174,266 and are down 7.9% for the year so far.

  • Even truck sales dropped 6.8% to 152,543 and are down 5.1% for the year, getting worse by the month.
  • Car sales collapsed 25.5% to 21,723 units and are down 22.8% year-to-date. It looks like FCA is throwing in the towel on cars.
  • The fiasco by major brand: Ram sales were flat, Jeep sales fell 4%, Chrysler sales plunged 16%, and Dodge sales plummeted 30%.
  • Fleet sales collapsed by 41% to just 27,362 units. Retail sales were flat.

Winners and losers among other major automakers.

Toyota total sales jumped 14.9% to 226,632 units and are up 0.5% for the year. This put Toyota in second place in sales, behind GM and ahead of Ford.

  • Car sales inched down 0.5% to 91,886 and are down 11.3% for the year. Toyota is by far the largest car seller in the US, 84% higher than Ford, 37% higher than GM’s, and four times higher than FCA.
  • Truck sales – they’re hot in Texas – skyrocketed 28.5% to 134,746 and are up 11.4% for the year.

Honda total sales rose 6.4% for the month to 142,722 and are about flat for the year.

  • Car sales soared 13.5% to 73,292 but remain down 2.5% for the year. Honda is the second largest car seller in the US, behind Toyota.
  • Truck sales inched up 0.5% for the month to 69,430 and are up 3.2% for the year.

Nissan total sales rose 9.5% for the month to 139,932, but are up 1.1% for the year.

  • Car sales fell 4.1% to 62,298 and are down 11.4% year-to-date.
  • Truck sales soared 23.5% to 77,634 and are up 15.7% year-to-date.

Subaru total sales edged up 0.4% to 55,120 and are up 7.2% year-to-date. Car sales, though they fell 4.6% for the month to 29,367, are up 9.1% for the year. Not every automaker suffers from plunging car sales! Truck sales rose 6.7% to 25,753 for the month and are up 4.7% for the year.

Hyundai Motor Group, oh my! The conglomerate includes Hyundai and Kia.

  • Hyundai total sales plunged 14.4% to 57,007, by far the worst plunge of the major automakers. Year-to-date, sales are down 12.9%. Car sales crashed 26% in September, to 35,469. But truck sales rose by a hefty 15.3% to 21,538 units.
  • Kia total sales rose 6.6% to 52,468 units, but remain down 6.9% so far this year. Car sales jumped 15% to 36,508, but truck sales dropped 8.6% to 15,960. Year-to-date, truck sales plunged 18%, which takes some doing in truck-focused America.

Volkswagen Group sales soared 22.8% to 51,666. This includes Audi, Volkswagen, Bentley, and Lamborghini. Year-to-date, sales are up 7.8%.

Daimler sales dropped 2.2% to 32,337 and are down 3.0% year-to-date.

BMW sales inched down 0.2% to 29,428 and are down 5.1% year-to-date. This includes BMW, Mini, and Rolls Royce. Rolls sales jumped 55% to a whopping 121 cars. BMW sales inched up 0.7% and Mini dropped 7.2%.

A special word about Tesla: Its sales are too small to matter – despite the hoopla on Wall Street of its ludicrous $57 billion market capitalization. With only 3,350 units sold in September, when the industry sold 1,523,867 units, it has a market share of a nearly invisible 0.2%. Porsche sold more vehicles than Tesla did. But here is the interesting thing: In September, sales fell 6.9% year-over-year. Now we’re holding our breath for a Model 3 miracle or perhaps a colony on Mars.

Hurricane Harvey is pulling vehicle sales way up in the affected areas. This didn’t start on September 1 but later in September, and with a vengeance.

As soon as the hurricane had blown over, a mad scramble ensued to bring new vehicles, particularly trucks, from around the US into the affected area to replace the flood units on dealer lots. Some dealers, after having been closed for a week or so, reported surging sales volume, and they’re working furiously to satisfy the demand. Since there were some days at the beginning of September with essentially zero sales, I don’t think that the current surge in sales is fully reflected in the September numbers. October will show the full brunt of that post-hurricane demand.

As expected, the area will have blistering sales going forward. Given how large the Houston metro is, it will impact national figures for months to come. But this may still not be enough to pull overall US new vehicle sales out of their funk for the year.

Mexico’s wage repression scheme creates Nirvana for global automakers. Read…  $2.25/hr to Build a $40,000 Vehicle

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  45 comments for “Which Automakers Got Crushed, Which Boomed?

  1. raxadian says:

    Anyone has any idea why trucks are selling so well?

    • T-888 says:

      Cheap gas, huge end of MY discounts and incentives.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      People like them.

      BTW, trucks = pickups, SUVs, crossovers, and vans. Crossovers are like cars (remember the station wagon?), they just look a little different and sit a little higher. They really should be classified as “cars.”

      In parts of the country, pickups have always been popular, even with people who never put anything in the bed.

      • You had me at “people like them.” We underestimate the imaginative power of the automobile to transcend our merely pedestrian lives. This is one reason the electric car will not succeed. It doesn’t go Vrooom although they can probably fix that. The notion that your car is attached to a cord of some kind, remains the issue, although people accept the cellphone which is a leash attached to your neck, in techno terms, it brings us closer to our dogs.

        • Maximus Minimus says:

          Just wait for the Tesla promo: model S + one way ticket to Mars. That should sell with tech enthusiasts, and save the planet, too.

    • illumined says:

      People have always liked big vehicles in America. I’m more partial to good old luxo-boats myself.

      • junior_kai says:

        Cuz many ‘Muricans have supersized themselves and cant fit into a normal sized car anymore. Plus many others have “size” issues, if you know what I mean. Saw an ewok sized guy jump into an F350 lifted into the upper atmosphere the other day. When he cranked the ignition it sounded like the space shuttle on liftoff. But he gets cool points wherever he goes, all at 7mpg!

    • Keith says:

      Drive one. I am on my second and loath cars.

      Also, with an aging population, it is easier for older folks to get in and out of a truck/crossover than a car, due to the former being higher.

  2. 2banana says:

    How many of these cars and $50k trucks were bought with subprime auto loans?

    • Wolf Richter says:


      That’s been kind of the range.

      • Thunderstruck says:


        That’s been kind of the range.”

        Now, what could possibly go wrong with that kind of percentage?

        I wonder what the current NPL ratio is for subprime, and what the forward-looking projection is…….

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Auto loan subprime defaults are soaring. The industry is worried about it. But total amounts are not HUGE. There are about $250 billion in subprime auto loans outstanding. Much of it is securitized, with risks spread between lenders and investors in these Asset Backed Securities. So it will hurt auto sales but it won’t take down the financial system.

  3. Michael says:

    Because trucks are useful for hauling things that don’t easily fit in cars and they have better visibility since they sit higher than the average car. Also fuel economy has significantly improved. For those those of us in California we can stop worry about the poor road conditions impact to our vehicle.

    • The new PUs have postage stamp beds, and four doors, they are pickup LIMOS. I am waiting for the first full size 3 seat station wagon style pickup Limo to come out. Keeping it small enough to park is the real consideration, the four foot bed is probably next.

      • Thunderstruck says:

        “they are pickup LIMOS”

        When the availability of a MANual transmission in a 1/2 ton pickup was eliminated, I knew that a base model work truck would never again be seen on a dealer’s lot near me.

        What a shame…

        At least I can still special order a 3/4 or one ton pickup with a MANual tranny (Ram brand only).

  4. Drango says:

    I never thought I would buy an SUV, but with a 2.0 liter turbo in my Ford Escape, who needs a sporty car? I was one of those car drivers who griped about SUV’s and big trucks, now I don’t think I can go back to a low driving position. That’s where the market is going, and I think the car companies know that better than anybody.

  5. Colin says:

    I’ve read about peak lithium before. Is it possible Tesla is having problems finding the lithium for their automobiles?

    • MC says:

      Tesla batteries are mostly manufactured by the Panasonic Corporation (formerly Matsushita), which also supplies batteries to Toyota for their hybrids, among others. All use one or other form of Li-Ion technology.
      There seems to be no problem with supplies of hybrids at the local Toyota dealership.

      There are as many opinions as there heads about “peak lithium”, with each expert seemingly coming up with a different estimate about reserves and rate of consumption growth.
      This also leaves out new reserves being discovered, or known reserves that can now be recovered economically thanks to advances in mining and extraction procedures: just to give an example since 2013 large lithium chloride reserves have been found in Wyoming, albeit the amount that can be recovered in economically efficient fashion is a matter of debate.

      The major problem with lithium is not so much supply itself but the fact world supply is effectively run by an oligopoly of just three mining concerns: Sociedad Quimica y Minera, the Frontera Mining Corporation and Rockwood Holdings Incorporated, with SQM being the largest lithium producer by a large margin and hence effectively setting prices.

      It may surprise some to learn the two sectors accounting for the largest consumption of lithium are glass/ceramics (where it’s used as a flux and glazing material) and as a lubricant (both to manufacture lithium-based greases and as a lubricant in continous casting processes). While consumption for battery manufacturing has experienced a tremendous growth, the use in casting has increased at an even faster pace, especially since the problems associated with carbon boil and oxygen contamination have been if not exactly resolved at very least put under control in third and fourth generation continuous casting machinery.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Don’t believe the lithium hype. There’s plenty of lithium for now. BTW, Panasonic makes the battery cells and owns the IP. Tesla just buys the cells from Panasonic.

      • John henderson says:

        Can lithium batteries be re-used,in any way?

        • MC says:

          Presently lithium isn’t extracted from spent batteries sent for recycling: this concentrate on rare earths, cobalt, copper and sometimes nickel contained in the batteries.

          Lithium isn’t extracted from batteries at the present for two reasons.
          First, with literally dozens of different Li-Ion designs around, both past and present, specialized processes would be needed for each one. All of these processes are lengthy and potentially dangerous with present technologies, and to make matters worse more sophisticated batteries (such as those used on electric vehicles) require discharging and partial disassembly before crushing.
          Second, recovering lithium from batteries is at the present five/six times more expensive than mining it and is only feasible in presence of large taxpayer-funded incentives. With more pressing environmental concerns and considering the rests of crushed Li-Ion batteries are completely harmless if correctly stored (barrels full of naphta are more than enough), there’s not much enthusiasm at the moment for lithium recycling.

        • Maximus Minimus says:

          If batteries were designed big enough, they could be revived by replacing the electrolyte even multiple times, but I don’t think anybody thought about that. Convenience first.

        • Kraig says:

          Yes the power grid uses them for peak power balancing(since each battery is a bunch packed together with some failure, a large enough facility (think substation scale allows for them to overcome some of the faults and use battery that won’t work on their own.

  6. DK says:

    How many automobiles , in total, were destroyed or severely damaged in the storms? Are most insurance policies in these areas written to cover this kind of damage.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Only vehicles with “comprehensive” coverage are insured for flood damage. But the insurance only pays for an equivalent used vehicle (minus the deductible). So if your car is five years old and got totaled, the insurance company will write you a check for the cost of an equivalent five-year old car minus the deductible. So most flood damaged cars will be replaced by used cars or will be repaired.

      Estimates range from just over 300,000 to 600,000 vehicles with at least some flood damage in the Harvey area. Since only a portion of the vehicles had comprehensive insurance, we will never know the exact number. The uninsured vehicles (they will not have a “flood” title because no insurance claim was involved) will reappear on the used car market, and buyers need to be VERY careful.

      Only a small portion will be replaced by new vehicles. That’s the surge we’re seeing now.

  7. penfold dangermouse says:

    FCA threw in the towel on cars last year with the end of the 200 and Dart.

    In the US, FCA’s essentially is now a SUV/pickup-only company

    • MC says:

      The latest and greatest FCA pickup truck we get in Europe is a rebadged Mitsubishi manufactured in Thailand and is having more than its share of teething issues.
      Pickup trucks here tend to be bought by people using them for work so issues tend to crop up fairly quickly and word about what is good and what is not spreads fast.

      • and you don’t want to get out on the Autoban in your Jeep Cherokee with the Firestone tires and go eighty miles an hour. That is a terrorist weapon.

        • MC says:

          I’ve never seen an FCA Jeep, any model, older than three years here, and they have been extremely popular since Renault started importing the Cherokee in the 80’s: huge car but far cheaper than a Toyota Land Cruiser or Mercedes-Benz G-Class.

          I suspect reliability isn’t this brand’s forte and they get scrapped once the warranty runs out, kinda like it happens with Ducati motorcycles. ;-)

  8. RangerOne says:

    The most utility of any cargo vehical would be had with a tow capable cargo van with removable seats. But Americans buy SUVs and crossovers because they are sexy relative to alternatives family vehicales.

    People buy absurd big trucks in the city. But everyone were financially sane you would see far fewer trucks on the road since they are a terrible money black hole for the vast majoriry of middle class owners. But then again so are BMWs…

    I think in general midsized to large SUVs and trucks have a lot of recreational appeal for people who love to haul family and gear out to the mountains and desert on weekends. Big trucks and SUVs just feel more appropriate for long family road trips which is a fairly nostalgic pass time for many.

    As long as gas stays dirt cheap most people will opt to have at least 1 SUV or truck. Though as wolf noted that one SUV now often is a crossover, which is basically a lifted midsize car.

    • raxadian says:

      So the “plan” to sink petrol prize helped to make people not buy small cars?

      Heh, only in America.

      • Maximus Minimus says:

        If you live in Europe, you would be surprised what monstrosities BMW, Daimler, and even Porsche sells in North America. There is nothing sophisticated about the look, but that doesn’t seem to bother the American consumer.

  9. T.J., not the real Tj says:

    I’ve been waiting and watching for months now. Just bought a local (carfax clean)4 year old loaded full sized Asian sedan with 11,000 Miles. Sticker was $37,1. I paid $13,2. Now I’ll sell my 120,000 mile wheels for a few sheckles less than I would have liked, but I’m good for the next several years. In several years I will do the same and buy 2016-2017 sedan (or whatever the market undervalued at the time) with very few miles on it. It’s a good time to upgrade.

  10. Bin says:

    3 of my co-workers have bought f-150’s this year. We’re in the oil industry and it’s still hard times but they still made the sacrifice and love their trucks.

    I’m usually the only one that pulls up in a car at work. They make fun of me over that.

  11. T says:

    Why is Hyundai doing so poorly?

    • Modalita says:

      Hyundai has a reputation as a lower class car. I suspect with our status obsessed culture that’s why they are getting the shaft. It’s a shame because from what I can tell they provide great value at the price point.

      Same reason payless shoes are in bankruptcy.

      • RT says:

        Kia may have the same reputation also. However, I had a Kia mini van for more than 10 years and 215000 miles now. It is still running great and strong. It has serve my family well. It only cost us $24,000 brand new. I would definitely suggest looking into the Korean cars next time whenever someone is looking for a new vehicle.

    • MarcD says:

      Hyundai makes fine cars nowadays. Reading any automotive publication will tell you that. But I think their problem could be that they don’t make enough trucks and SUVs. In the current Hyundai model lineup, by my count they have 8 cars and 3 crossovers / SUVs. Not a great mix in today’s market.

      Contrast that with Chevrolet (9 trucks/SUVs/crossovers) and Toyota (8 trucks/SUVs/crossovers).

  12. Avon Rep. Cindy's Husband says:

    Incentives averaged $4,048 per vehicle in September, the highest ever, according to research firm J.D. Power.

    I’m wondering what the percentage of the total price of the car the incentive currently is, and what percentage it has been going back in time…?

    I like watching old commercials on yt, and see old 1980’s ish ads for some Dodge cars as $750. cash back and $1,000. cash back on some models…..

    $1K back on a $15K truck 1988 and now $4k back on a $50K Truck…?
    Then + – in the hidden stuff, is it about the same ?

    You know the in’s and outs of all the fine print on incentives Wolf….
    What’s the real deal????? Are incentives really the highest ever now, or are there some hidden mirrors….?

    I know the biggest incentives go to the worst selling models…. So I guess you would have to possibly end up comparing poor sellers in 1988 to poor sellers today…. With the worst sellers today being cars, but in ’88 or so, were the poor sellers cars also? Or trucks ? Remember it was the time of the K-car.

    At what time were incentives highest on thin margin vehicles…?
    When did it hurt the most…..?

    I guess if’n you wanted you could really get crazy and add in all that “adjusted for inflation” yadda stuff too….

    I know you’ll have an interesting answer…..


    I’m pretty sure JD Power can’t hack the math like you can…….


    • Wolf Richter says:

      The incentive-to-MSRP ratio has been over 10% all year. And it was higher than that in September.

      A different measure, the average new vehicle selling price (the actual price not MSRP) was $34,861 in September. With the average incentive at $4,048, you get a feel for how big that is. Some vehicles didn’t have much of an incentive because they were selling without them, others had over $10,000.

  13. Kia says:

    Word from a good friend who lives in South korea and follows the Automobile market closely, tell me Kia could quite likely go bankrupt if a court ruling orders them to pay a huge backpayment of some sort to its employees. He also said last time in the 90’s when they went belly up that its debt was one of many contributing factors that triggered the Asian financial crisis. Round two coming to a theater near you? Take a look at its share price and it don’t look good

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Thanks. That’s interesting. Hyundai Group’s holdings, which include Kia, have been under fire for their cross-holdings and the murkiness that this creates. When one entity gets in trouble, as you said, it can easily cascade into the system via these murky cross-holdings.

  14. mvojy says:

    You keep saying “truck” but Subaru, Hyundai and Kia don’t make trucks. They only make SUV’s.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      It’s the way the industry counts with two categories: “Trucks” include pickups, vans, SUVs, and compact SUVs (crossovers which are closer to station wagons than trucks). The other category is “cars.” And that’s how automakers report them.

      It may be time for the industry to change those categories, or add a third category, but that hasn’t happened yet.

  15. LeClerc says:

    GM is doing better than you think.

    They are using the old “I don’t need to run faster than the bear, I just need to run faster than you” trick.

    Malibu and Cruze may not be “better” than models from Toyota and Honda, but they at least hold their own against Hyundai.

    And don’t get too comfortable with so-called “low gas prices.” This could change in an instant, and then people will line up at the Chevy dealer for Bolts, Volts, and Cruzes.

Comments are closed.