SUVs continue to dominate as passenger car sales fall

Ford records March US sales down 7.3% vs. 8.2% est.
Ford records March US sales down 7.3% vs. 8.2% est.

Ford, General and Honda on Monday reported an increasing reliance on truck and SUV sales as U.S. sales of cars continue to slip.

Ford reported that sales of cars fell 24.2 percent, while trucks were up 2.5 percent. Despite market trends boosting SUVs across the board, Ford's SUV sales were still down over 3 percent. In brighter news, the company did report a double-digit increase in sales for its F-Series pickups.

"Our high-series Super Duty trucks and all-new F-150 Raptor drove double-digit F-Series sales gains in March, along with the strongest year-over-year increase in transaction prices of any truck manufacturer in the industry," Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in a release.

The Dearborn, Michigan–based company also reported that fleet sales were down nearly 17 percent. While this decreases sales numbers, retail sales are far more profitable for automakers than fleet sales.

Crosstown rival Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also reported a sales slippage, with the Italian-American corporation selling 5 percent fewer cars this March. Sales from namesake brand Chrysler fell 33 percent despite a well-received, new minivan model. Fiat, the other half of the name, saw a 5 percent drop.

Wall Street pegs Jeep as Fiat Chrysler's most valuable brand, with the SUV maker serving as a profit center for a company that has typically struggled to make inroads in small cars. Despite market headwinds pushing toward crossovers and SUVs, Jeep still delivered 11 percent fewer vehicles this March.

GM benefited from recently introduced crossovers and SUVs that buoyed sales to 1.9 percent above their March 2016 levels. The crossover lineup saw a 21 percent boost in retail sales, while trucks were up 0.5 percent.

"Chevrolet will have the industry's broadest and freshest lineup of utility vehicles led by the all-new 2018 Equinox and Traverse, plus we have a unique three-truck pickup strategy and a dominant position in large SUVs," Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of sales operations, said in a statement.

The company didn't report how much car sales grew in March, besides saying that Chevrolet had a 9 percent increase in retail sales.

The American auto giant also increased its control of the market, with market share up 0.3 percent to a GM-estimated 16.7 percent.

As for international marques, Toyota sales fell 2.1 percent. While Toyota's SUV sales supported overall sales, luxury brand Lexus posted a 7.5 percent drop that helped sink the company's monthly sales growth into the negatives.

"The Toyota division set a new light truck record for the month and quarter as we saw SUV sales sizzle with a best-ever March for RAV4, Highlander, and 4Runner, all up double digits," said Jack Hollis, Toyota division group vice president and general manager.

Honda sales for March fell 0.7 percent, weighed down by underperforming luxury division Acura. Honda-branded cars and trucks saw a 1.8 percent sales gain, with the truck division gaining 12 percent over last year.

The Japan-based manufacturer noted that the Honda Civic was once again the best-selling passenger car on a retail basis. Factoring in fleet sales, which Honda typically doesn't pursue, the Civic was still likely outsold by the perennial sales leader, the Toyota Camry. Despite the claim of best-selling status, Honda did not disclose whether the Civic gained or lost sales for March 2017.

"Many automakers are looking for signs of market stability as consumers continue to head towards trucks and SUVs," said Jeff Conrad, senior vice president and general manager of the Honda Division. "But cars are still a compelling choice for many, especially when you have the right formula. Civic is a great example."

Nissan Group reported a 3.2 percent gain, with luxury marque Infiniti leading the growth with a 32.6 percent increase in sales. Nissan crossovers also showed growth, with the automaker moving 26 percent more crossovers than last March. Sales of the newly redesigned Titan pickup truck saw a massive 335 percent increase. Nissan-branded car sales saw a double-digit drop, with 14.4 percent fewer out the door than last year.

Infiniti's truck division was able to post 48 percent growth, with the car division growing 13.6 percent.

Volkswagen, too, was in positive territory. The company bucked trends, as cars, hatchbacks and wagons led to its 2.7 percent sales increase.

Each of the Volkswagen Golf's five variations — Golf, Golf R, GTI, e-Golf, Golf SportWagen — posted double-digit sales gains, with the Golf family as a whole gaining 48.2 percent. However, it's important to note that the Golf SportWagen was formerly part of the Jetta family, so the sales increase there is artificially inflated.