Carmageddon for GM, Ford & Toyota: 3rd Down-Year in a Row. Industry Sales Below 2015. Hyundai-Kia Drop 11% in 2 Years. BMW & Mercedes-Benz Fizzle

But average transaction prices rise to record highs.

In terms of new-vehicle sales in the US, 2018 was the third relentless down-year in a row for three of the four biggest automakers, GM, Ford, and Toyota. For them peak sales occurred in 2015.

GM delivered 2,954,037 vehicles in 2018, down 1.6% from 2017, down 2.9% from 2016, and down 4.2% from 2015:

These are deliveries of new cars and trucks by dealers to their customers, by automakers directly to large fleet customers, and by automakers to their own employees via employee-purchase programs. A lease counts as a sale because the dealer sells the vehicle to a leasing company, a lender, or the automaker’s own finance company, which leases it to the customer.

For GM, these deliveries included 1,034,808 crossovers, a relatively new and hot category. These vehicles are based on a car chassis and drive-train, but are dressed up like a SUV, only smaller. I call them the modern station wagons, but in terms of marketing, they’re called “trucks,” because no one would buy a “station wagon” and everyone is buying “trucks.”

GM also sold 973,463 pickups. These two categories – crossovers and pickups – account for 68% of GM’s total sales.

Those sales along with about 280,000 large SUVs and some vans — so total “truck” sales — accounted for about 80% of GM’s deliveries in 2018. That doesn’t leave much room for cars.

GM’s press release was all about trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. The only car GM mentioned was the Bolt EV. GM said it increased production in Q4 “to meet strong global demand,” and it expects higher sales in major markets in 2019. The rest of the cars are left for dead, as GM’s big plans to shut down car assembly plants confirm.

Of GM’s total deliveries in 2018, 21% were to fleets, mostly rental car companies and corporate fleets.

Pickups, SUVs, and crossovers come with hefty prices for consumers and big-fat profit margins for automakers, thanks to Americans’ refusal to go on a buyer’s strike to bring down those profit margins. And the average transaction price (ATP), which is the sales price to the customer after incentives, has been increasing across the industry. This includes a shift by consumers from cheaper, low-profit-margin cars to more expensive, higher-profit-margin crossovers, pickups, and SUVs.

So GM, in its press release, told Wall Street: “ATPs were a record $36,974 in the fourth quarter and a record $35,839 for the year.” These record ATPs are why revenues in dollars have been holding up in the US, despite declining deliveries of vehicles. This is a strategy that can get costly.

Ford sold 2,485,222 vehicles in 2018 (of which 29.3% were to fleets). Sales were down 3% from 2017, down 3.9% from 2016, and down 4.1% from 2015:

The only car Ford specifically discussed in its press release was the Mustang. Ford proudly announced that in the month of December Mustang deliveries jumped 9%. Alas, further down in the table, Ford disclosed that Mustang sales for the whole year dropped 7.4%. The only car line with sales gains in 2018 was Ford’s smallest and cheapest car, the Fiesta (+11.9%), though it only sold 51,730 of them, just 2.1% of Ford’s total sales. All other car lines booked sales declines – many of them deep in the double digits – with total car sales down 18.4%.

Ford is also leaving cars for dead by the wayside. What’s selling are pickups (+4.2%) and SUVs, including crossovers (+2.9%). But they’re unable to make up for the multi-year collapse of car sales.

Part of the volume problem at Ford is the urge to focus on high-priced vehicles with big-fat profit margins – pickups, SUVs, and crossovers. “A continued stronger mix of trucks and SUVs expanded transaction pricing for another new record of $38,400, a $1,600 increase over December last year,” Ford said. It proudly tells Wall Street that this increase in ATP was over triple the size of the industry’s ($470) and that its ATP is now substantially higher than that of the “overall industry at just $34,000 per vehicle.”

So Ford has positioned itself as a premium product with high and ballooning prices and big-fat profit margins. And demand sagged by 4.1% since 2015. Go figure.

At Fiat Chrysler (FCA) – also includes Maserati and Alpha Romeo – sales in 2018 jumped 8.5% to 2,235,204 vehicles, of which 23% were fleet sales. But this comes after the catastrophic year 2017 when sales had plunged 8.8%. Despite the gain in 2018, sales were still down 1% from 2016, and down 1.3% from 2015:

Toyota sold 2.427 million vehicles in 2018. This puts it in third place, behind Ford and ahead of FCA. Toyota’s sales peaked in 2015 and have declined every year since. 2018 was down 0.3% from 2017, down 0.9% from 2016, and down 2.9% from 2015:

The other Japanese brands:

  • Honda’s sales dropped 2.2% in 2018 from its peak in 2017, to 1.641 million vehicles.
  • Nissan’s sales fell 6.2% from its peak in 2017, to 1.494 million units, which knocked sales 4.5% below 2016.
  • Subaru sales rose 5.0% to 680,135 vehicles in 2018, up 16.7% from 2015, a big success against its big brethren.
  • Mazda sales rose 3.7% to 300,325 vehicles in 2018. But this was down 5.9% from 2015.
  • Mitsubishi sales jumped 13.9% to 118,074 and 24% from 2015!

For all six Japanese automakers combined total sales dropped 1.3% from the peak in 2017, to 6.62 million units. The drop in 2018 put sales below those of 2016:

The German automakers – BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen Group – eked out a new high in 2018, with combined sales rising 3.6% to 1.35 million vehicles. But they’re small: Combined, they’re selling just 20% of the volume of their Japanese competitors. Toyota, Honda, and Nissan each outsell the combined German automakers:

  • Mercedes-Benz sales dropped 5.5% to 355,413 vehicles in 2018 and are now down 6.6% from 2015.
  • BMW sales inched up 0.5% to 355,778 vehicles, after two really lousy years, with sales in 2018 down 12.2% from 2015.
  • Volkswagen Group (includes VW, Audi, Porsche, Bentley, and Lamborghini) sales rose 2% in 2018 and are up 5% from 2015.

Korean auto makers Hyundai and Kia, which are affiliated, went upscale, like everyone else, and are now paying the price. In 2018, their combined sales fell 0.6% from 2017, which had been a terrible year, with sales dropping 10% from 2016. That leaves 2018 sales down 11% over the two-year period and 8.6% below 2015:

Among the niche automakers, the notable development in 2018 was that Tesla, with estimated deliveries in the US of 182,400 vehicles, giving it a market share of a minuscule 1.05%, beat Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover (122,626 vehicles) and Geely-owned Volvo (98,263 vehicles) for the first time.

All automakers combined sold 17.33 million units in 2018, up 0.6% from 2017, but down 1.2% from the peak in 2016, and down 0.8% from 2015:

For the industry, sales of new cars plunged 13% in 2018; and sales of new trucks (SUVs, compact SUVs, pickups, and vans) surged 8.3%. Car sales, after four years of plunging, account for only 29% of total sales, the lowest share on record in US history. This is the price of going upscale — new cars are too damn expensive, and Americans aren’t buying them anymore. They’re buying used cars. Read…  Carmageddon for New Cars, But Used Cars are Hot

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  115 comments for “Carmageddon for GM, Ford & Toyota: 3rd Down-Year in a Row. Industry Sales Below 2015. Hyundai-Kia Drop 11% in 2 Years. BMW & Mercedes-Benz Fizzle

  1. MF says:

    Upper income households are doing well. Every marketing department from Apple to Ford to DR Horton are looking at spreadsheets showing the vast chasm between households making 80%+ AMI and everyone else.

    It’s way easier to add self-parking, granite countertops or rose gold cases and then jack the price than it is to revamp product lines and pivot into pent up markets with restrained buying power.

    Sales and marketing execs are notoriously egotistical, one-track minded, and self assured. Apple’s X bellyflop and Hyundai’s G90 delusions ($70k?? Really?) are just the manifestations of wishful thinking two years ago when the disappointing numbers started rolling in.

    It’s called walking away from your market and it’s the oldest Saab story in the book.

    • RD Blakeslee says:

      Amen on Saab!

      They made some of the best working class cars in the world, in the 1950s and ’60s.

      Another reflection on GM: Saab was merely on the high road to ruin, until GM bought it and finished the job.

    • Jack says:

      AMI (average median income)

      • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

        Median household is just a hair under $60k. But that might be 4 people each making the $15k I do…

      • MF says:

        Oops. Meant to say 180%+ AMI (area median income).

        Figuring out how to market your product mix is always done at the local level. AMI, in part, defines the demographics of your target market, and is used when deciding what your product mix will be at any given location.

        Branding and image management is done nationally or globally. Some people lump this into “marketing”, but I find it easier to separate them as “advertising” and “PR” activities.

        Car manufacturers loooooove to stuff dealers with high-end, high-profit products, regardless of the local appetite for them. This is done *in spite* of the fact they employ regional marketing managers whose sole job is to analyze, understand, and recommend the product mix for their areas of responsibility. These “midwigs” as I call them, are routinely overruled by execs motivated by profit and revenue, not raw sales numbers. So you can see where the disconnect happens.

        • JohnnySacks says:

          Just try to embark on the hopeless task of finding a single product available at the ‘starting at’ price in the bait and switch advertisements. The base models have more bling and immortality devices than any sane person should go 4 years long paying for to begin with, but heated seats and sunroofs? Ooooh, shiny… count me in for 60 months of payments.

  2. Bill Roth says:

    Sales will probably continue to drop because of the price of new vehicles. In my lifetime I have bought eight new vehicles. It will not be nine even though I will more than likely buy several more vehicles. They have been priced out of my range. I am now retired and a large part of my living is Social Security. In order to buy a vehicle that I would drive, and I am NOT buying one of these little cars that you have to put on rather than get in, it would only take 100 percent of my Social Security check for four years. I have been driving pickups for years now. I might look for an SUV next because I can get into one instead of put it on. Also, I am not going to get an FHA loan to buy one. I made a living in the automotive field for several years in both sales and finance manager and am aware of the sell on payments method most often used. I am NOT financing a vehicle for 7 to 8 years. When I trade, I will be paying cash and it will be a gentle used vehicle.

    • char says:

      Retired people who life mostly of social security aren’t suppose to buy new cars, except maybe a tiny one. This has sadly been always the truth

      • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

        I’ve realized that I’m not all that far from retiring, and while my SS won’t be the max., it will be something. About the same money I work for now.

        A car is not going to be part of the picture.

        And I’m not moving out of the US; I’ve decided that.

        So I have to think about low, or at least lower, COL areas in the US to go where I can live OK on SS plus some hobby income, w/o a car.

        • QQQBall says:

          Living in USA on SS is not and will not be fun. People always project the status quo into their future. You might stay as you are apparently very frugal, but many more people will opt for geo- arbitrage to improve their overall quality of life.

          best of luck

    • RangerOne says:

      Mid sized car prices feel like they have stayed pretty flat over the last 15 years. Especially used ones.

      My first low mile used hyundai elantra cost $10k at 20,000 miles. Prices are about the same today for a 20,000 mile used elantra.

      Truck prices seem to have inflated but I dont track those closely.

  3. 2banana says:

    Another need for a GMAC, GM and Chrysler bailout in the near future….?

    • Prairies says:

      Their finances are stable so no. The sales volume is down but the prices are so damn high they still make money.

    • char says:

      Fiat/Chrysler is a death company as it doesn’t have the technology you need to have to sell cars in 20 years. Their plan is to be bought up, but sofar no takers.

  4. HR01 says:


    Excellent summary. Many thanks.

    Appears the automakers have tried to emulate the I-phone strategy of going upscale. Not a viable long-term strategy as we’ve witnessed this week with the Apple sales warning.

    Now waiting on the details pertaining to Ford’s previously announced “restructuring”.

  5. a reader says:

    It’s obvious that the “profit on a maximized total transaction amount, sell on a minimized monthly payment” business model is getting left behind by the changing economic environment: debt saturation, diminishing empoyment security.

    The vehicle manufacturers should be looking toward making simpler, less expensive vehicles. Other factors, however, are working against this: the ever-increasing regulations, and buyers thirst for “luxury”.

    With the planning, design and factory re-tooling periods measured in years, I don’t see this ending well for the auto industry.

    Ironically, among the bigger brands, it’s the one that’s built its name on simpler station wagons that’s done better than most – Subaru. (also, see Volvo under “self-inflicted death”).

    • JoAnn Leichliter says:

      Amen, a reader. My father was a Chevrolet dealer, back in the day. I hate all of the over-computerized pieces of junk we see today, and so do most middle/lower middle income guys. The American love affair with the automobile ended with our ability to crawl under the hood and do stuff ourselves. I suspect that something less computerized and gizmoed-up (thus less expensive and more fun) would find a nice niche market, but I suppose we will never find out.

      • Paulo says:

        The only way to do this is buy an old gem and keep it up to par. Next winter I am rebuilding an engine to have ready to go for my van. I also have an extra transmission sitting on a pallet. An older vehicle easily lends itself to this. Modern vehicles ensure buyers will be visiting the dealer, forever. When folks go all in on EVs the manufacturers will ensure there is limiting software to avoid jobber replacement batteries cutting into their profits. They can’t produce a product on quality alone. They always strive for a monopoly; just like drug companies.

        • Juanfo says:

          Same thing they said about electronic fuel injection 30 years ago. Now every backyard hack has a a cheap code reader app on their phone. In 2050 kids will be baking batteries or coding software for more power right there in the street in front of their parents house.

      • Realist says:

        French Renault does this very thing. Their Dacia brand sell well, no frills automobiles with no bling, instead tested and quite reliable machinery with all developement cost paid years ago and all gremlins worked out when the machinery was new ( and installed 10-15 years ago in Renaults).

      • Prairies says:

        The Jeep Wrangler is the last of this segment. D-I-Y customization was the focus of the little suv, it has changed in the last few models but still isn’t as bad as a new truck.

      • Geoff says:

        I suspect the days of having to get under the hood will be gone in a decade. The death of the internal combustion engine will come sooner than most expect.

        • Realist says:

          If you live in the north, then you’ll know what salt does to cars during the winter and during summer, too, when they salt dirt roads to keep the dust down.

          In ICE veichles the combination salt + electronics/electrical sytem can be mighty fun, not speaking about what the salt does to the car body itself.

          I dare to claim that there will be a lot of need to “go under the hood” with EVs.

          What is the average lifespan for an electrical motor in a Tesla driven in the so called rust belt up north ? No problem as long you have warranty, but when the warranty has expired …

          If you live in SoCal or such places, salt is no problem.

    • roddy6667 says:

      American car manufacturers lose money on the “simpler, less expensive vehicles”. To go down that road is certain financial death.

      • a reader says:

        Yes, they are boxed in by the current reality of the business. Take the credit away, make the customers buy for real – with cash – and things would change rather drastically.

        Then, of course, there is the issue of durability: it’s gotten so good in vehicles that the planned obsolescence is required – to retire the current product and make room for the new. This is taken care of by the unholy combo of the easy credit and the overly complex product (which becomes expensive to keep post-warranty).

        And finally, there is the thought that maybe what we have here is the excessive production capacity. Maybe some masses of new vehicles are made just to keep the factories humming. Stopping and restarting an assembly line costs several hundred thousand dollars.

        Changing over to making fewer, simpler cars profitably would require much more than a manufacturer’s will. But even as things are, some manufacturers are better at this (ex:Subaru) than others.

        • Realist says:

          “Take the credit away, make the customers buy for real – with cash – and things would change rather drastically.”

          Isn’t this the basic problem of all retail regardless of product ?

  6. endeavor says:

    Automakers say” Customers are now demanding trucks and SUV’s and not interested in cars. Well, the automakers have always built what THEY want to sell vs. what the buying public want. They want to now sell trucks and SUV’s due to the much higher margins. In the past they would be a full line mfg. and offer something for all income demographics but Wall Street is objecting.
    Watch a football game live and you will see a couple of dozen truck commercials, mostly the same one. Convincing beta males to feed their inner cowboy. Hell, I spent 30 years in print advertising, know the racket and still feel bad that I don’t sign up for a truck at my local dealer after the game. Until the haze clears. Little to no car advertising so you see which way the indoctrination swings.
    They also play finance games with trucks. MSRP’s are jacked higher so they can offer cash back and other incentives. As a ‘smart shopper’, $8000 off MSRP beats $500 off a car even though you can’t afford the end price of the much more expensive vehicle. My guess? When things get tough they will giving away more an more
    margin to sell trucks at a much lower volume and reap the whirlwind.

    • 2banana says:

      You would think at least one US car maker would be selling a traditional car that is:

      1. Economical to purchase
      2. Easy to maintain
      3. Highly reliable
      4. Great gas mileage

      Maybe not the highest margins but margins none the less. Plus use an “entry” purchase so as/if the buyer moves up the economic ladder they have good memories of a car from the manufacturer…

      Singles and doubles win the game.

      • Rowen says:

        Toyota tried that with Scion, but it was easier for youngins to just buy used.

        • ElKay says:

          Scion was an attempt by Toyota to increase their franchise count without encountering the wrath of their existing dealer body. Unfortunately, most of the product line was uninspired (xB anyone?) and the target customer either had no money or, if they did, would buy something else that didn’t look like a toaster. When they finally got the FR-S it was too late. The Scion brand was absorbed into the Toyota dealerships after the “Scion exclusives” were deemed to be not financially viable as they were expensive for both Toyota and the dealer to keep on life support.

      • Kent says:

        Doesn’t seem to work that way anymore. If you want something cheap and reliable, buy a used Honda. Otherwise plan on ponying up.

      • Top-GUN says:

        VW Rabbit Diesel met your requirements… but Uncle decided you shouldn’t have,,, in his opinion it pollutes too much, although if you go by pollutants produced per mile instead of percentage of exhaust it is very clean relative to other vehicles…

      • James Mitchell says:

        1968 Rambler American with an easy to work on, six cylinder and four pack of wine coolers

      • Ray Blaak says:

        That’s what I did with the Toyota Echo, buying a new one in 2000. It’s now 2018 and I am still driving it, will probably get another 4-5 years out of it. I have always said I am a loyal Toyota customer forever.

        I don’t think they made very much money off of me though.

        The problem is that I want my next car to be like the Echo: bar bones, economical, reliable, great mileage and fun to drive.

        They don’t exist really anymore. Hybrids are too complex and expensive for me to trust. Maybe an Electric, but they are also expensive.

        Maybe an econobox Kia, but I worry about the company.

        • JohnnySacks says:

          The four never go wrong purchases – as they forever were and forever will be: Corolla, Civic, Camry, and Accord. Although Honda is turbocharging the Accord, so it will become a dealer repair service queen too soon.

    • Marc D. says:

      New car buyers apparently are more than willing to spend that extra money, though. I just checked for my local area (DC area). There are dozens of leftover 2018 Chevy Malibu sedans sitting on dealer lots, being heavily discounted by as much as $10,000, to $14K for cars with a $24K sticker price. And yet apparently nobody wants them. Because they want to go spend $40,000 on an SUV instead.

      • will says:

        Of course no one wants a Malibu – it’s the worst of all worlds: uninspiring, poor reliability, terrible resale value, the works.

        At least with an SUV you can get through all that DC snow (this is sarcasm btw, I live in MN), shine your headlights right into the eyeballs of car drivers, and try to convince your neighbor that you’re rich enough to pull a boat with it some day (another fun MN reference – having a boat here isn’t special)..

        If someone wants to pay $14k for a car, they’ll just buy a corolla. It’s the same size as a “full size” car was 20 years ago anyway.

        • Marc D. says:

          You missed my point. I was just using the Malibu as one example. The story’s the same across the board – sedan sales were down for every brand, while crossover and SUV sales were up. Chevy sold 299K Equinoxes, but only 132K Malibus and 131K Cruzes last year. They even sold 133K Traverses, which are a lot more expensive than Cruzes and Malibus.

          My point was that people are complaining about car prices getting so high; yet consumers are the ones opting for fully loaded $40K SUVs, when the same dealerships have sedans being discounted to under $20K sitting on their lots. So they could get a more reasonably priced new vehicle, if they wanted to.

          And BTW Chevrolet has pretty good reliability ratings nowadays. They rank 6th among all brands in JD Power’s 2018 Dependability Study.

      • T.J., not the real Tj says:

        Try to get it for 10k off price. You have to be active duty, return lessee, college grad, Uber driver , and other stuff all at the same time to qualify for all the discounts.

    • economicminor says:

      My wife and I have been car shopping lately after some young woman t-boned us at an intersection. I am unimpressed in what car manufactures have come up with since 2003 when we purchased our last new vehicle (the one that was t-boned). With all the robotics in manufacturing there are few changes outside new computer driven advances like blind spot detection yet the prices have continued to go up?

      I feel like a curmudgeon. Advances in manufacturing and technology should have made the same type of vehicle less expensive or at least added a lot of really useful somethings to a new vehicle but no. They just cost more. And what new technology they do provide isn’t up to snuff.. Why don’t ALL new vehicles have Apple Play and Android Auto? And many have proprietary entertainment systems that aren’t upgrade able.

      No wonder that car sales are dismal.. They have lost touch with their customers and then want to much money from us for what they have to offer.

      • Harrold says:

        “Why don’t ALL new vehicles have Apple Play and Android Auto? And many have proprietary entertainment systems that aren’t upgrade able.”

        This puzzles me as well. Apple & Google have thousands of engineers working on iOS/Android. Car manufacturers have about 5. Why they think they can produce a decent product with a handful of people is beyond me.

        For the cars with the integrated HVAC controls, there will never be a 3rd party solution and they will look incredibly outdated in only a few short years.

        • char says:

          The car makers have also thousands of engineers working on their systems and the reason why they don’t want Apple/Google is lock-in. If you know the GM/Toyota etc. system you are more likely to buy a GM/Toyota again, even if your opinion of the system is that it is crap.

          Another reason is that Apple asks money for it.

        • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

          Char – Yeah the good old “Apple ecosystem”.

          Which made sense when operating a PC meant you actually did have to spend some time under the hood. I remember those days, and went with Apple because if I had a problem, I could go to the Apple Store in Palo Alto and they’d help me out. Not because I’d paid for Applecare, either, but because I had an Apple.

          Steve Jobs died, cheap reliable ex-corporate PCs are all over the place for a hundred or two, and Apple Stores are miserable to go into now. And any “under the hood” stuff is easy to Google now.

          And it’s really not hard to learn Windows 10; it’s just not that different from MacOS.

    • PaulJ says:

      Love the analogy Endeavor, “beta males to feed their inner cowboy”. As they say, boys don’t grow up, only their toys get more expensive. Downunder the 4WD Ute market is the big seller, with blokes adding all the macho extras they can and a set of fake balls hanging off the tow bar. As the band Skyhooks said in a song “ego, its not a dirty word”, but it sure costs a lot to feed. I guess that’s what auto makers rely on, vanity.

    • It's true says:

      Customers ARE NOT INTERESTED in simple small cars.

      Take Fiat-Chrysler, for example. The Dodge Dart got 40 MPG, handled nicely, was a decent family car and sold for around $15K. They couldn’t give them away — even with multiple thousands of dollars on the hood, buyers didn’t bite.

      They picked up the Jeeps and Dodge SUVs at the dealership instead.

      FIAT small cars are reasonably well-built, frugal, and quite cheap to buy. The 500 series starts at around $14K, and they sell a few hundred per month in the United States in a good month. Contrast that to the RAM 1500 pickup, which easily retail in the $40K range — they sell tens of thousands per month.

      The Chrysler 200 was a mid-sized sedan, completely redesigned for the 2015 model year. For around $20K, you got a very luxurious vehicle loaded with options and great gas mileage… it was also quite safe. You could get a mid-range model for around $18K with incentives.

      Nobody bought them; it was discontinued at the end of 2017 despite being a clean-sheet design. The capacity is now being used to build Jeep Cherokees (built on the same basic platform), which are selling like hotcakes.

      This isn’t just a Fiat-Chrysler thing. GM’s sedans aren’t selling, hence the recent culling. Ford cannot make money selling sedans outside of its high-end Lincoln line… so the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion and Taurus are history. (They weren’t selling well, even when Ford discounted them to levels where it lost money on every car sold). VW can’t sell Passats or Jettas; Honda’s Civic and Accord sales are in the toilet. Even mighty Toyota is having trouble moving Corollas and Camrys. Nissan’s basic passenger car business is also in the doldrums.

      People claim to want cheap, reliable and basic cars, but the ones being put out by the major automakers are NOT selling.

      • will says:

        “People claim to want cheap, reliable and basic cars, but the ones being put out by the major automakers are NOT selling.”

        I think the distinction that you’re trying to make (in so many words) is that people do want, and do buy ‘cheap, reliable and basic cars’ – however people who want this buy used, not new vehicles.

        I think some of the above comments are onto something about the market bifibricating (between the have and have-nots), however, I would contend that there’s always been a difference between those who spend all of their money (partly on cars) and those who don’t spend money they don’t have to. The auto manufacturers are obviously more interested in selling to the former than the latter..

      • safe as milk says:

        Deserved or not, the dart – which was based on an alfa-romeo – has a reputation for being poorly built. At that price point, Japanese and Korean makes have the quality reputation.

      • T.J., not the real Tj says:

        Goats are INSANELY unreliable. Chrysler is almost as bad.

  7. Karl says:

    I am curious as to worldwide sales statistics for these manufacturers.

  8. Wisdom Seeker says:

    Margins should drop as competition increasingly focuses on high-end SUV/crossovers and trucks… especially when recession hits and vehicle demand rolls over.

    But there may be a valid reason for automakers going upscale: since new vehicles last a lot longer now, there’s increased supply of used vehicles to satisfy downscale demand. Especially since 30% of new vehicles are leased.

    Same principle also applies to mobile devices.

  9. curiouscat says:

    I drive a Subaru Forester Touring model. Best car I’ve ever owned. Loaded with features including driving assist and adaptable cruise control. Makes driving a lot easier for a senior citizen. And I got it at about 8% discount by purchasing through the Costco buying program. No haggling. It is no surprise to me that Subaru is up 5%.

    • ft says:

      My two-year old Touring XT is one step down from yours in features. Still amazed at how much I like it. Millennial stepson, daughter-in-law and kids have pretty much taken it away from me, so I added a WRX to keep my senior citizen bones awake. Subaru being up 5% no surprise to me either.

    • cd says:

      if you own a Subaru dealership in the Northwest your printing money, or the Boch enterprise in New England…..he got distribution rights…..


    • PaulJ says:

      In Australia, sadly Subaru isn’t even in the top ten for total sales in 2018 by manufacturers and they don’t even have a top ten winner in model types for 2018 either. All we get on OZ are petrol engines coupled with that woeful CVT, no turbos or manual options. As a former Forester owner, I miss all those driving performance features, although they have just announced a 5 year / unlimited warranty, but so have Toyota. Subaru have lost their mojo.

      • JohnnySacks says:

        Bingo – a CVT go-kart transmission is a deal killer. The fact that Toyota charges over $1000 more for a manual transmission in a Corolla speaks volumes about how crappy the internals of a go-cart transmission must be. In addition to how crappy it feels when you have the extreme displeasure of being stuck driving. Mitsubishi has totally lost their soul and Subaru is sliding downwards also. There is a very likely chance for a Crosstrek in our future, but never if the only option becomes a go-kart transmission.

  10. earl d says:

    Interesting to note that plug-in electric vehicle sales had a gang buster year, up over 50% from last year, or an increase of 160,000 vehicles. Put a different way, PEVs accounted for more than 100% of the slight uptick in unit sales from 2017 to 2018 of 17.2 to 17.3.

    Also, of note, most vehicles sold in the PEV category are sedans: it’s not necessarily that the US buyer is turning away from cars, but rather that car buyers are increasingly opting for electric vehicles

    • 2banana says:

      We will see how popular PEVs are when:

      1. Consumers actually have to pay their full sticker price as the subsides and tax breaks go away

      2. Oil is at $30/gallon

      3. Democrats pile on tax after tax on PEVs as their “rich” owners are “not paying their fair share” to keep the roads maintained.

      • WES says:

        2banana: Spain started taxng solar panels to help pay for maintaining electrical grid! So your prediction of taxing electric vehicles to maintain roads will happen!

        • ElKay says:

          It’s already being considered in several states as the EV’s do not pay motor fuel taxes and, as a result, get a “free ride”. If you notice, there are some EV’s that aren’t available for sale, but “lease only”. There’s a reason for that….

        • T W Theron says:

          My neighbor bought a Tesla and his first complaint was higher cost of vehicle plates for his car over conventional cars.

        • JohnnySacks says:

          Is this comment implying that a producer of electricity from a favored source should be insulated from the cost of distribution?What should be criticized is that the electric companies are apparently unable to determine and properly account for the cost split between production and distribution.

      • Wolf Richter says:


        From a tax revenue point of view, the problem with EVs is that the gasoline tax doesn’t apply. This tax is used to fund highway maintenance and construction. EVs are using these highways but are not paying for them via the gas tax.

        So at the state level, all kinds of additional fees and taxes have already been implemented some time ago to make up for that loss in tax revenues. This is clearly something that EV owners will face more generally.

        • char says:

          But the government would rather see EVs that ICEs so expect that those taxes will be on all cars

      • char says:

        1. The conservative expectation is that the sticker price of a 200 mile EV will cost less than a comparable ICE within a decade.

        2. Oil is now $60 a barrel.Not that much higher that $30 a barrel. Besides gas taxes are the major cost in a lot of first world countries

        3. Greenies will make it illegal to drive an ICE in the neighberhood of schools, hospitals etc. Usefulness of a car that you can’t drive isn’t that high.

  11. B Kowal says:

    Bought my 20 year old college sophomore a navy blue Yaris 1a in August 2017 for $16,500 cash. Fitted out like a luxury car, with all bells and whistles. Manual xmission. Great gas mileage, nice looking, roomy for its class. Toyota bought this brand from Mazda. Made/Assembled in Mexico. A real marvel of ingenious engineering. Thank you, Toyota – -probably the best manufacturer of automobiles in the world. The downside is that their cars are just plain hideous. That trapezoid grill is butt ugly, looks like the maw of a giant catfish. The Yaris does look better in the crimson color, though.

    • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

      Oh, the new car designs are just hideous. And I thought Scions were ugly,

    • HowNow says:

      I’m confident that the butt ugly grill is intentional. These designers, engineers and marketing people aren’t exactly stupid.

      • char says:

        They need the grill for Hydrogen cars. Not that they will ever be a success but the Japanese will try.

  12. Dave K. says:

    I don’t get it. I bought a BMW 4 series last year for $29,000 optioned out with 30,000 miles and was 2.5 years old.
    People are paying 35k for junk….

  13. Art says:

    Automakers have been going upscale since the mid 90’s. Prices started to get ridiculous around ’95. I first noticed it on a coworkers Corolla wagon with gold badges (yuck). When I was in high school in the 80’s, you could buy a new Toyota pickup for 6k or a new Fox wagon for 4k.

  14. NotBuying says:

    Hmm, higher prices for SUVs and lower sales volumes? Sounds a lot like Apple. Dominoes are set up to fall.

  15. phathalo says:

    How much of similarity is there between the high-end / high-margin strategy followed by automakers and other sectors of the economy like Silicon Valley or Real Estate developers?
    Can we blame the Fed for this?

    • ElKay says:

      It’s economics… it costs as much to manufacture the basic “can” (body in white / frame / suspension / government mandated safety and emissions equipment, etc..) for a stripped down vehicle as it does for a highly optioned vehicle.

      Manufacturers then take the profits from the highly profitable vehicles (the fully optioned) to support the losses on those that are difficult to sell but the manufacturer must continue to produce in order to satisfy CAFE standards and not get fined from here to infinity. Chrysler doesn’t care about CAFE…. they just pay the fines (or buy credits from some other manufacturer such as Tesla) and stick with their macho marketing message. They tried reintroducing the Fiat brand to the U.S. to help with CAFE but it hasn’t worked out as they envisioned. Other manufacturers are more conservative and attempt to balance their production in order to comply with the rules.

      Some manufacturers have lost their minds…. Ford being one of them. They think the entire planet will dive face first onto the $75,000 pickup rage. During an economic downturn, the “white trucks” you see littering the dealer lots will become a very tough sell as the contractors and mow blow crews see their income drop and hold onto (or liquidate) their existing fleets.

      Someone else mentioned Escalade as proof of the “market” for $75-100,000 SUV’s. Um…. no. Look at the registrations. Many of those are Uber Black or in licensed limo company service. The two I know of that “civilians” drive, both were company provided vehicles. One has since transitioned to a Range Rover as I guess the Escalade wasn’t unreliable enough to suit his tastes.

      • char says:

        It is not so much doesn’t care as more that Chrysler is a company on borrowed time. Their technology is subpar and they don’t have the money to improve it. They will be gone within a decade or two. Or as a pure coach builder in the electric age.

        • Erle says:

          Just for curiosity’s sake, where are you going to get the power to charge?
          Do you think that EVs are viable in the northern states?

        • char says:

          You can get electricity in many, many ways. You can even burn oil in a power plant. It even gives more miles than if you refined the oil and used to gasoline in a car engine.

          You can’t run a car company only on sales to the Northern states so it will end up that EVs need to be viable.

  16. Bobber says:

    I’m having trouble understanding how Ford’s average price could be over $38k. I imagine an Expedition or F250 truck could get that high, but what else? They are selling Explorers for much less than $38k. They must be selling a ton of trucks.

    • Harrold says:

      For a base model, the Platinum model Explorer’s MSRP is around $56k.

      You deserve a platinum model don’t you? Easily affordable with a 96 month loan! :-)

      • Juanfo says:

        I learned here on that paying interest on a depreciating asset is the other definition of insanity.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Check the prices of nicely equipped F150s. That’s Ford’s most popular model. A few people use them as work trucks, but most people use them for personal transportation, and they want something nice. Make sure to hold on to something when you look at the Monroney sticker.

    • Marc D. says:

      Also, that number’s for the Ford Motor Co., which includes Lincoln. Navigators start at $73K and can top out at close to $100K.

  17. Rowen says:

    It’s the same thing with houses and cell phones. Most people (or maybe just “many”) who buy these things never actually own them. They’re just renting them from the bank until they sell or replace them. Then, they’ll just roll the replacement into a new note.

    85% of vehicles financed
    average new car note: $515/month, $31400 financed, 69 months
    average used car note: $372/month, $19500 financed, 64 months

  18. TheDreamer says:

    Is there any demographic data tied to cars and truck sales (both used or new)? I am particularly interested in purchases by age cohorts – I see very few young adults like myself buying new (or used really) – those that did seem to complain about monthly payments and swear never to again. It’s difficult to purchase anything when 25%+ of your income is going to student loans – most of those that didn’t go to college are in low wage service jobs so can’t reach these higher price points. $200 a month is a lot of money to most people. To say nothing of gas, insurance, etc…

    I know many young people that have abandoned cars in the same way we’ve abandoned the idea of homeownership – high costs, low wages, nondischargeable student loans, etc. All make them impossible. I cannot imagine spending even 30k on a car. City dwellers, in particular, gave them up a decade ago.

    I think a large amount of the cost bloat is the push towards all digital – this article suggests up to 35% of a car is software cost ––What-s-really-at-play-

    I for one have not enjoyed any of the electronics in any newer rental I’ve driven. I’m much happier with my 2000 – it has both CD and a tape deck – I just use an adapter and can plug in my phone. Speaking of which – the loss of a headset jack in the iPhone is a huge complaint and probably secretly sunk Apple.

    Everything feels overengineered for an imaginary ideal customer (aka Rich). I wonder how much of this is rooted in bad product ownership and R&D practices, how much is trying to service demanding Stock analysts and how much is misguided market analysis. Triple threat to quality and value.

    • char says:

      That 35% is more fuel injection, brakes, catalyst firmware etc than the entertainment system.

  19. mkruger says:

    Whether new or used, I get why people buy cars, it provides the freedom to travel wherever and whenever you please, but the cost is staggering. Perhaps going back to public transit would be a much better option (assuming you’re not too rurally located). After all, it’s far cheaper for the end consumer, and far better for the environment as well.

  20. footy says:

    Those ATP prices are considerably above the medium personal income for Americans. wikiped lists that number as $31k in 2016.

    At one point in time, they made money by making cars people can afford. Not anymore.

    • OlliBoy says:

      Nowadays high priced items such as houses/apartments and vehicles are not made to be affordable, but financeable.
      At present interest rates are very low. Consumers should take advantage and arrange higher/faster repayment of credit. Instead prices have increased with the decrease of interest rates. So consumers are stuck with significantly higher credit for the same, if modernised. car or house/apartment. The added value does, however, not nearly account for the increase!
      I am convinced that these items would be priced much lower, had interest rates not been set to historic lows.

  21. Atu says:

    Remembering an article on the shift that took place in late ’80s on in manufacturing. Car design changed to parts which were designed for a fixed service life and then whatever unit was to be replaced was so in entirety. That took away a lot of own servicing of vehicle. This led to vehicles with (hypothetically) less everyday maintenance and being generally more reliable. So there is a bracket of vehicles which around that time and a little later which did not adopt that model but did include changes for reliability. That also sort of explains how vehicles are bought like appliances nowadays, if you can afford that mindset.

    Older generation were generally thankful to just have transport, they also wanted to know what they were buying… that is all taken care of now, but at a price.

    Those who cannot afford modern prices are also spoilt. You can say pick up a small reliable Japanese hatchback from turn of millennium in good condition for under a thousand even under 100 k on the clock, insure for well under 500 and mpg good, with only very occasional service costs… own has airconditioning even.

    So I don’t get the trouble, except false expectation, over debt, and for manufacturers a saturated market…who is going to buy for 10k even when their budget prefers 1 or 2 ?

  22. SocalJim says:

    Actually, the newer the car, the longer it lasts. Because cars are lasting longer, we need less of them. Not much going on here.

    Personally, I replace my car with a new car every 4 or 5 years. Each year, the new cars get safer. If you value your life, driving a new car is a must. You are putting your life at risk by driving an older car.

    • safe as milk says:

      Maybe. We will have to know the long term statistics to see if the electronic safety nannies are saving lives. I would argue that the peak for car longevity was 1995. The really important tech was there but the insane level of complexity that exists in current cars wasn’t there yet. I doubt 10 speed automatic transmissions are going to last anywhere near as long as the old five speeds will.

      Here’s Scotty kilmer explain why you should buy used:

    • MD says:

      If you think you’re ‘putting your life at risk’ by driving a 4, 5 or even 15 year old car, I’d posit you must lack the basic co-ordination and spatial awareness to be out in charge of any kind of vehicle at all…

      The safety of a vehicle depends on the competence of the person driving it and actually it has been demonstrated that those who feel too safe and cossetted in their crumple zones tend to be more reckless…

      As T E Lawrence correctly said, the safest motor vehicle would be the one with a big, sharp spike mounted in the center of the steering wheel!

      • SocalJim says:

        Starting around 2014, new cars started passing the “small overlap crash test”. If you value the life of yourself, your wife, and your family, you should consider only purchasing a vehicle that passes that test. Older cars fail that test badly, and many deaths result from that.

        • safe as milk says:

          you should also consider not buyig an suv or crossover. there higher center of gravity gives them poor handling characteristics compared to a car.

      • MB732 says:

        MD never heard of that spike quote–Good one! You also make a point about the ‘feeling’ of safety in new cars. Riding motorcycles gives one an appreciation for the huge amount of energy (in the mass/velocity sense) of a vehicle at 75mph vs, say, 55mph.

        In riding school we learned Scan-Predict-Act. If you neglect to S&P and need to A at 75mph, you’re in trouble.

        If people understood this about their cars, they wouldn’t follow 2 car lengths behind each other on the highway. There’s even a ubiquitous* Liberty Mutual car insurance commercial featuring a guy who back-ends another driver who ‘slammed on his brakes out of nowhere’ whatever that means…

        *Expanding my vocabulary–Thanks California Bob

        • Erle says:

          Yes, I always assumed someone was going to kill me on the motorcycles. I only was hurt badly by some Mexicans that purposefully ran me off the road.
          I hate the automated braking systems on cars and now bikes.
          It’s the pits when one cannot rebuild their calipers and master cylinders. Some of the mechanical brakes were fairly good and exceedingly easy to service.

      • PaulJ says:

        Your steering wheel comment MD about a spike reminded me of a documentary several decades ago where vehicle designers reckoned a boxing glove in the steering wheel would be a better deterrent and having the fuel tank at the front of the vehicle would create greater distances between them on the road. Driving skills are lessened with each generation as people rely too much on technology. They become brain dead. An experienced pilot can tell what the plane they fly is doing even if blind folded when their hands are connected to the traditional control like Boeing. Not so if flying a computer controlled plane holding a joystick like Airbus. Many young people can’t even do basic maths in the shop, waiting for the computer to tell them how much change to give back to the customer. This is further compounded with customers paying by card. Technology has a place, but I will always drive a vehicle in preference to engaging in buying a driver less one.

      • Erle says:

        T. E. Lawrence died from running off the road on his fabulous Superior with tiny brakes. He didn’t need the spike, he just rode too fast on country lanes.

    • kevin says:

      “Driving a new car is a must. You are putting your life at risk by driving an older car.” – You must either be a car salesman or you’re oblivious to the smell of your own BS or both. lol.

      Road safely is a function of mostly driver behaviors, rather than the model of the car or how old your car is.

      If you’re constantly DUI or texting on your phone while driving, even a new vehicle with all the bells & whistles won’t help you to reduce risks of death or injury to innocent others and to yourself.

    • Jos Oskam says:

      “…You are putting your life at risk by driving an older car…”

      Huh? You are putting your life at risk driving anything. Period.

      You are obviously either working in the car business or you have fallen lock stock and barrel for the FUD marketing from certain auto manufacturers (Volvo comes to mind). They love it when they have successfully programmed people to believe that they are safer when using their newest products. Conveniently forgetting the new generation of ignition locks GM mounted, or the drive by wire electronic accelerator in certain Toyotas, just to name a few.

      If you think you are avoiding or mitigating life’s risks by buying a new car every year, dream on.

    • JohnnySacks says:

      Immortality for sale at a price, a marketing dream. I see it with new parents: every child car seat ever produced rendered unsafe on a yearly basis. Nice work if you can get it.

      The percentage of accidents:
      Most are fender benders and no problem other than financial distress losing the vehicle.
      Some you’re all going to die regardless.

      But I’ll live forever with that $80,000 Mercedes or Volvo sedan.

  23. OlliBoy says:

    I agree that focussing on profit margin by itself can come to hurt carmakers, specifically when a market segment is losing demand. Premium cars are usually high quality in parts and assembly. So, in a economic crisis, the owners can easily decide to stick to thesecars a few years longer than planned.
    On the other hand, the crises of the past 56 years have shown to hurt premium buyers much less, as they are less dispensible to their jobs (or are self-employed or owners of biz) and not only have more reserves, but also better managed and diversified reserves. So they are less vulnerable and thus a more stable consumer base.

    This is why I would have appreciated to see a comparison in margins of the different carmakers and these summed up to compare overall margins of the major carmaker nations, as listed in the article. I am certain, that margins of German car makers are significantly higher (both relative and absolute) than, say Koreans.

  24. breamrod says:

    I wonder what the margins were on ford’s original mustang? Maybe it wasn’t great but they sold a ton of them because they were great cars that people wanted. Where’s another Lee? We sure need him!

  25. IronForge says:

    Mister Richter:

    Sorry to ask; but in Future Auto Sales Summaries, would you please include separate Tallies on Alternative Energy Vehicles? Subcategories would include Flex-Fuel(Gasoline and BioFuel) Base Hybrids(Non-Plugins), PHEVs, BEVs, CNG/LPGs, and HFCVs.

    With a good number of Battery Electric Models coming Online and HFCVs available in California, with some H2Fuel Stations scattered along the Atlantic Coast, I’d like to see the progress of their adaptation and acceptance.

    Hope it’s not too much.

    Thank you,

    • Wolf Richter says:

      I will when the market share of EVs reaches about 5%. Right now it’s a little over 1%. Right now, EVs have a significant share in only a very small sub-segment of the market, namely luxury sports sedans. But this will spread in future years. And then it will impact the overall market.

      • IronForge says:

        Thank you, Sir!

      • WT says:

        Wolf, where did you get your data for this article? Is there a link?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          I’ve been tracking auto sales for years, for as long as I’ve been writing about it. So I have annual historical data that I now consider my proprietary data.

          The current data is published by automakers (except Tesla). In the article, I linked the press releases by GM, Ford, and FCA that give you lots of details for the current period and year-over-year. A summary page is available for current data at but formatting can get mangled not long after is has been posted, so I don’t like to link it because a month or two later, I might send a reader to the mangled page. In the past, another data provider, Autodata, published monthly data for free, but no longer. It’s all behind the paywall. Also note, that sometimes the numbers differ slightly from various sources. And Autnomotive News says as much. But the differences are minuscule.

  26. cd says:

    there is no margin in new and a little in used……
    finance is the margin player for new car dealerships, Service pays for the lights, salaries, building etc…..

  27. Pete in Toronto says:


    I didn’t see a mention that, sure enough, Ford is following GM in only releasing sales data quarterly rather than monthly

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Yes, as I mentioned last April when GM stopped providing monthly data, monthly reporting is dead. GM killed it. It has 17% of the US market. Monthly reporting became meaningless without GM. Other automakers will stop doing it. And I stopped reporting on monthly data after GM stopped providing it.

      I understand the rationale. Monthly data can be very volatile and noisy — and sometimes misleading. Quarterly data balances this out somewhat. Companies don’t provide monthly data on their revenues either. So the move makes sense from this point of view. But I don’t like it.

  28. Yankee says:

    Average new car is like $35,000? In 1994 I make 60K per year and bought my new American made Van for cash $13,000. American workers were averaging over $25 an hour wages then.
    Now we have robots making cars and $4 an hour Mexicans in the factory too. I will never afford a new car again.
    So why is a new mid size sedan $35,000?????

  29. AwYeah says:

    So, deliveries are down (big time) but earnings are up

    What gives? Way more expensive units? As Apple has proven you can only push your prices up so far before people cannot afford it.

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