CHICAGO – Americans’ strong appetite for light trucks and sport utility vehicles helped drive sales higher in February at some automakers, while others struggled with continued weakening demand for sedans and compact cars.
GM and Nissan posted sales gains last month, while Ford and Fiat Chrysler’s US subsidiary reported declines compared to the same period a year ago.
Industry watchers were split over whether US sales would eke out modest gains or decline compared to February 2016. Some predicted heavy discounting to help offset softening consumer demand.
The industry is coming off of a record sales year in 2016, and this year’s pace is still expected to be robust even if consumer demand weakens.
“The sales pace for the industry is healthy, and more importantly, looks to be sustainable as we head into the high volume selling months ahead,” industry analyst Tim Fleming of Kelley Blue Book said earlier this week.
GM sales were up four percent, even as the biggest American automaker expected an overall industry decline of one percent from the year-ago period.
The company expects sales of newly-introduced and recently redesigned crossovers to drive sales in 2017.
“We delivered solid growth in the industry’s fastest-growing and most profitable segments,” Kurt McNeil, GM’s head of US sales, said in a statement.
Nissan sales also grew by four percent, with crossovers, trucks and SUVs experiencing 22 percent increase year-over-year. Its Rogue compact crossover was the most popular model for the month, and saw sales surge 54 percent.
Ford and FCA US struggled, with robust SUV and light truck sales unable to compensate for an industry-wide decline in cars and compacts.
FCA US posted a 10 percent decline, with fewer sales in every model except Ram trucks, which rose four percent compared to last February.
Ford sales fell four percent, despite selling almost 65,956 F-Series pickup trucks. Its car sales declined 25.7 percent, while SUVs grew 5.9 percent and trucks 3.9 percent.
January, a traditionally slow sales month, was also disappointing for many automakers. GM, Ford, Toyota and FCA US saw sales dwindle, while Nissan, Honda, Mazda and Volkswagen picked up sales on smaller volume.