By: Tim Plouff
Numbers matter. They provide context, reveal trends, and give a true accounting of events. For automakers, the sales numbers tell us what products consumers are embracing—and the consumer is the ultimate arbiter of success, not the critics or the spin doctors. Successful sales provide income, income equals more products, more sales, and a potential future. The opposite—well, those models that don’t sell create stress, panic, and ultimately failure for the model, the managers, and possibly, the brand.
America is the second largest new-car market—just ahead of Europe, but a healthy margin behind China’s one-billion population’s continuing expansion. Beating expectations, 2019 was the fifth year in a row that new car sales exceeded 17-million units, while used cars sales are more than double that number as escalating retail prices push more consumers to this segment.
Reflecting our preponderance for automotive freedom, the open expanses of our country, and lifestyles that differ greatly from many other markets, crossover wagons and pickup trucks have over-run conventional cars and now dominate our sales charts.
The Top Ten selling Winners in 2019, in order, were; Ford F-series (896,000 trucks), Ram Pickups, Chevy’s Silverado, Toyota’s RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Chevy Equinox, Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, and Toyota Corolla. Ford’s F-series pickup is such a powerhouse, that if taken by itself, the F-series would be the 7th leading brand in America, right behind Jeep.
Individual models showing big gains last year include FCA’s Ram pickup—climbing past Chevrolet’s Silverado for the first time ever, Tesla’s Model 3—to dominate the alt/power/EV segment, Subaru’s full-size Ascent crossover, Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid (over 22% of total RAV4 volume) Ford’s Expedition, Jeep’s venerable Grand Cherokee, Volkswagen’s Atlas, plus the compact Jetta sedan. The aging Dodge Charger showed a 17% sales gain—the lone bright spot in the Dodge lineup, while GMC’s Sierra covered the sales decline of the Silverado.
Losers covered a large spectrum, besides the numerous car models that have been discontinued. Toyota’s Prius got hammered, losing 21% of sales, while both the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf electric cars saw further sales declines. The Grand Caravan and Pacifica minivans dropped big volume as did the Dodge Journey mid-size crossover. Honda’s Accord, Mazda’s new 3 sedan, and VW’s Passat witnessed declining volume as buyers migrate away from these very good 4-doors. And some slowly aging crossovers got hurt by an on-slaught of newcomers, as the Ford Explorer, Jeep Compass, Renegade, and Cherokee all slipped down the sales charts.
Despite the healthy gains with Tesla’s Model 3, alt-power/EV vehicle sales are still less than 3% of the new car market.
At GM, the planned migration from sedans to crossovers inflicted the most pain as Buick car, Cadillac car, and Chevy’s car lineups all took big drops. 2020 might be the last year you can actually buy a Buick badged car, as this brand will join GMC and only offer crossovers (or pickups in GMC’s case).
GM’s drop in car sales is off-set by the stout performance of its full-size SUV class—Tahoe, Suburban, Yukon, and Escalade—that crushes the offerings from Ford by more than 2.5-to-one.
The newcomers in the market demonstrated the power of fresh ideas while presenting the features and designs that consumers are gravitating towards. Subaru’s Ascent made the largest impact (81,958 sold in its first year, while outselling every other Subaru car badge) followed by Ford’s new Ranger, Kia’s attention-grabbing Telluride, Chevy’s mid-size Blazer, Hyundai’s compact Kona, Jeep’s Gladiator pickup, Honda’s Passport, Hyundai’s Palisade, and Cadillac’s new XT4 crossover. The Genesis G70 also made in-roads in the established luxury sedan class as others faltered.
BMW edged Mercedes to regain the top-selling luxury crown, Ford’s Mustang beat the Dodge Challenger for the pony car sales race title, while Tesla’s rise to relevance moved the fledgling brand ahead of Acura, Cadillac, Infiniti, Lincoln, Volvo and a whole host of other more established brands. In the ‘small’ pickup segment, Toyota’s Tacoma outsold the Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon—combined!
Light trucks—pickups and crossovers—are now 72% of the American new car market, a staggering turn of events from 10-years ago and the cash-for-clunker government program during the rebound of the economic recession.
Will this percentage change dramatically during 2020? Over twenty new electric vehicles are set to debut—most of them luxury-priced models—while Toyota promises more hybrid vehicles, the alt-power vehicles that consumers seemingly want, or, can afford. The race for sales starts now; who will be the winners and losers for 2020?