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US sales: Chrysler vs the world

by David Zatz on

Across the United States, light-duty vehicle sales dropped by 1.8%, but some companies did better than others. FCA US — which includes Fiat and Alfa Romeo, but not Maserati — dropped by 8.2%. Maserati itself posted a 9.3% gain, on cars loosely derived from a Chrysler LX (and, in some cases, Pentastar V6) base.  FCA US sold just over two million cars and trucks (2,059,376), with Maserati adding roughly 13,700 more.

As we posted earlier, only Ram and Alfa Romeo posted gains for the year. Ram went up by 2%, while Alfa exploded by 2232%; but if we look at actual numbers, Alfa gained by around 11,500 while Ram gained by 10,939. The big percentage losers were Fiat (down 19%) and Chrysler (down 19%), but Jeep’s 11% fall would have hurt more… if that fall wasn’t nearly all low-profit Patriots and Renegades.

The mighty General Motors, once the world’s largest automaker and responsible for around half of all American auto sales, came in with a 1.3% drop, selling just over three million cars and trucks. GMC was the only brand to gain (+2.6%) while Cadillac and Buick took the biggest hits (down 8% and 4.5%) — hurting profit margins.

Traditional #2 Ford saw a 0.9% drop, with sales of around 2.6 million, and both Ford and Lincoln dropping. While Lincoln dropped less than Buick or Cadillac, its sales of 111,159 for the year were small compared with Buick’s 219,231 or Caddy’s 156,440.

The third member of the modern Big Three, Toyota, also saw a drop, of 0.6%, to around 2.4 million sales; Lexus dropped by 8%, which must have hurt, while Toyota itself rose by 0.5% (including Scion). Honda came through just about even, with a 0.2% gain; in a familiar pattern, Acura dropped while Honda gained. (Acura sales were just a little below Cadillac’s.)

Hyundai had a different story to tell, with Genesis exploding by 196% — albeit to a paltry 20,594 sales. The Hyundai-Kia group overall fell by 10%, more than FCA, with its namesake brands both dropping.

Nissan was lucky enough to count two gains — a total company gain of 2%, and the profitable Infiniti shooting up by 11% to 153,415, within reach of Cadillac. The company benefited greatly from its Star Wars tie-ins.

What about the dedicated “premium” automakers? Mercedes and BMW both suffered, dropping 1% and 3%. Mercedes won 375,311 sales, including scattered Smart cars, and coming in roughly even with Buick and Cadillac combined, albeit with (we believe) higher margins.

A notable winner was Volkswagen Group, with customers apparently having decided that criminal actions at multiple levels was no barrier to trust; Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen all gained, and the group came in 6% higher.  Audi was the biggest gainer, rising by 8%, while Porsche went up by 2% and VW itself went up by 5%, not at all the pattern presented elsewhere.

Tesla also showed a gain, rising 35% to 55,120 on the strength of a completely new “mass-market” car. Production was promised to be much higher, though, and Tesla has yet to show an annual profit.

FCA ended the year with a 12% market share — right where the old Chrysler Corporation often landed.

Sales don’t tell the whole story; incentives started running out of control in 2017, and some expect them to grow even more in 2018. One question is, how much incentive was built into the retail price? It’s one thing to discount a car by $6,000 if you padded the list price by $6,500 anyway; quite another if you only intended to have $2,000 in cash on the hood.

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