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After three consecutive months of year-on-year decline (August to October) leading to a YTD also in negative after 10 months, the U.S. new light vehicle market surprisigly rallied back during the last two months of 2016. Helped by post-election stick market gains, November sales shot up 5% and December was up 3%, that month even hitting the highest SAAR of the past decade at 18.38 million. The result: a second consecutive all-time annual record at 17.550.351 registrations, beating the previous all-time high established in 2015 by a slim 71.000 units or 0.4% margin. 2016 marks the 7th straight year of growth from the U.S. market recovering splendidly from a 27-year low of 10.4 million in 2009, in the midst of the financial crisis. The last time U.S. sales gained volume for so long was almost a century ago: 9 straight years of growth from 1909 to 1917, a time when the Ford Model T was the most popular model both here and around the world.
Even more so than 2015, 2016 is the year of the light truck in the U.S. with sales of this segment surging 7.2% to break the symbolic 10 million annual unit barrier for the first time in history at 10.445.189 units. Light trucks account for a record 60.7% of all light vehicle sales in the U.S. in 2016. The growth rate are pretty evenly spread across the different light truck sub-segments: Crossovers are up 8.5% to 4.9850.966, Minivans are up 8% to 553.131, Pickups up 5.9% to 2.692.540 and SUVs up 4.4% to 1.785.419. Strikingly, all passenger car segments are in sharp decline this year: -8.1% overall to 7.105.162 with small cars down 6.2% to 2.892.600, midsize cars down 8.4% to 3.213.880, luxury cars down 12.4% to 997.661 and large cars down 44.7% to 1.021.
The forecast for 2017 isn’t that rosy as U.S. light vehicle sales have now hit a plateau. The market will be stable at best, which still means it will remain at all-time record levels. Yet if pent-up demand, more leasing, favourable finance deals and steady job growth have driven new-vehicle sales since the downturn according to Automotive News, rising interest rates and a retail market that has already hit its peak will endanger further growth. The larger incentives manufacturers have offered in 2016 have only prevented decline and not spurred any significant volume gains, and we may be reaching the high-end limit for artificially boosting sales (average incentives per vehicles were up 20% year-on-year in December to $3,673 according to ALG. An increasing volume of off-lease vehicles are now hitting the second-hand market with extremely attractive prices, and this will hurt retail sales further in 2017. Contact us (click on the mail icon at the top of the page) for detailed forecasts brand by brand of the U.S. market.
Among the six biggest automotive groups in activity in the U.S., the Detroit Three (General Motors, Ford and FCA) add up to 7.89m sales, down 0.7% for a 44.9% market share vs. 45.4% a year ago whereas the Japan Three (Toyota, Nissan, Honda) combine 5.65m sales, up 1.5% for a 32.2% share vs. 31.9% in 2015. These six group account for 77.1% of the U.S. market in 2016 vs. 77.3% last year. Add Hyundai-Kia, up 2.5% to 1.42m units, and this share climbs to 85.2%. GM (-1.3%) remains the top seller and announced rental sales down 74.000 vehicles or 18% in a bid to focus on more profitable sales. It towers above Ford Motor (-0.1%), Toyota Motor (-2%) and FCA (-0.4%) while American Honda (+3.2%), Nissan Motor (+5.4%) and Hyundai-Kia (+2.5%) all break annual sales records.
The Ford brand is once again the most popular in the country despite sales down 0.6% to 2.49m units, ahead of Chevrolet at 2.1m (-1.4%), Toyota at 2.06m (-1.6%), Honda at a record 1.48m (+4.8%) and Nissan also breaking an all-time record at 1.43.m (+5.5%). No less than four additional Top 10 brands reach all-time high sales in 2016: Jeep is up 6.1% to 926.376 (best-ever month in May at 90.545), Hyundai up 0.8% to 768.057 (new monthly record at 75.310 in March), Kia up 3.5% to 647.598 (highest month ever in May at 62.926) and Subaru up 5.6% to 615.132 (December highest ever at 63.177). Outside the Top 10, Ram (545.851) also snaps a new annual record.
A lot of annual records were also broken in the luxury segment. The leaders however are in decline: Mercedes overtakes BMW to grab the luxury crown for the first time since 2013 despite sales down 0.8% to 340.237 excluding Sprinter variants, with Lexus coming 2nd at 331.228 (-3.9%) and BMW – leader for 4 of the past 6 years – at 313.174 (-9.5%). After 11 consecutive years of Lexus reign between 2000 and 2011, BMW had won the luxury crown in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015, while Mercedes was tops in 2013. Audi is up 4% to an all-time high 210.213 deliveries, Infiniti up 3.6% to a record 138.293, Land Rover up 4.6% to an all-time high 73.861, Porsche up 4.9% to a record 54.280 and Tesla up 69% to a new high of just under 40.000 sales.
There is no surprise atop the models ranking: the three most popular vehicles in the U.S. are full-size pickup trucks for the third straight year and the 4th time in the past two decades along with 2003, 2014 and 2015. The Ford F-Series, now in full gear with new generations of the F-150, F-250 and F-350 in dealerships, gains 5% on 2015 to pass 820.000 deliveries. This is the F-Series’ highest volume in 11 years and its fourth highest ever: it only did better in 2004 (939.511), 2005 (901.463) and 2003 (845.586). This means the F-Series can now celebrate 40 consecutive years as the best-selling pickup truck in the U.S. (since 1977) and 35 straight years as the best-selling vehicle in the country (no interruption since 1982). With the Chevrolet Silverado down 4% to 575.000 units and the GMC Sierra down 1% to 222.000 adding up to 797.000, Ford is back above GM in the full-size pickup race after being outsold for the first time since 2009 last year. The Ram Pickup continues its forward march at +9% to 490.000 sales despite no design tweaks.
Yes, the Toyota Camry is America’s favourite car for the 15th straight year and for the 19th time in the past 20 years but it falters 9% to 389.000 deliveries, distancing the Honda Civic at 367.000 (+9%) and the Toyota Corolla at 360.000 (-1%) while the Honda Accord lags behind at 345.000 (-3%). 2016 marks the 20th consecutive year that U.S. passenger car sales have been dominated by a Japanese model: the last American sedan to be titled #1 is the Ford Taurus in 1996. In fact, like in 2015 there are no U.S. SUVs or passenger cars in the overall 2016 Top 10 (the Ford Escape ranks #12 and the Fusion #13).
But 2017 may be the first year when Japanese manufacturers have crossovers instead of cars as their best-sellers, as it was the case twice this year (July and December) for Toyota, Honda and Nissan all at the same time. The Honda CR-V holds onto its U.S. SUV crown in 2016, but just: at +3% to 357.335, it has struggle to keep the Toyota RAV4 at bay, up 12% to 352.154 and will need its new generation to perform optimally to keep the title. Lurking in third place in the SUV race but up by the largest margin is the Nissan Rogue at +15% to 329.904, it passed the Altima as Nissan’s best-seller for the very first time and could be the surprise winner of 2017.
Other success stories of 2016 include the Chevrolet Colorado up 29% to #48 and reviving the mid-size pickup truck segment, the Jeep Renegade up 75% to rank 50th for its first full year of sales, the Hyundai Tucson up 61% to #60 thanks to the new model, the Kia Sportage up 51% to #68 for the same reason and the Nissan Maxima up 55% to #80 despite the confronting design of its new generation. The Chrysler Pacifica is the most popular all-new nameplate, arriving at #81 and the only newcomer in the Top 100 yet still a notch below the performance of its predecessor the Town & Country. The Cadillac XT5 (#114), China-made Buick Envision (#186), Jaguar F-Pace (#200), Cadillac CT6 (#203), Buick Cascada (#209), Jaguar XE (#214) and Genesis G80 (#218) follow, while Chevrolet expects a lot of the Bolt which landed in December and ranks at #275 for 2016.
Previous month: USA December 2016: Nissan Rogue shoots up 53% to 4th overall
Full Year 2016 Top 15 groups, Top 40 brands and Top 310 models vs. Full Year 2015 data below.