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In the U.S., January and February are typically the two weakest months of the year. Thanks to petrol prices at 12-year lows and sales reports from a snowstorm-filled January, February sales are up 7% to 1.344 million units, the largest February score sine 2001 lifting the year-to-date total up 3% to 2.492m registrations. The Seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) is stable on last month at 17.53 million, but it’s the best rate for a February since 2000 and up from just 16.39 million a year ago. The light vehicle buying machine is currently running at full throttle in the US, also fuelled by cheap credit. According to J.D. Power, long loans and leases account for a record 65.1% of all retail sales in February, up from 64.3% in January. Is it appropriate to speak about overheating? BSCB will study this shortly in a separate Strategy piece.
Low petrol prices allow U.S. customers to get back to their first love: light trucks, up 13% in February to 772.000 sales and up 10% so far this year at 1.434 million units. Reversely, cars are down 0.2% this month to 572.000 units and down 4% year-to-date at 1.059 million, forcing carmakers to raise incentives on car nameplates to keep inventories from piling up. Group-wise, we have another very interesting evolution this month: leader General Motors goes agains the market at -2%, a drop it attributes to a very healthy 39% reduction in fleet deliveries, accounting for 21% of the company’s total sales in February vs. 27% a year ago. GM said retail sales rose 7%, in line with the overall market.
On the other hand, Ford posts the most impressive evolution this month, boosted up 20% by improved sales across the board: crossover and SUV sales are up 29%, trucks up 14% and cars up 19%. All its nameplates apart from the C-Max and E-Series van are in positive, its namesake brand is up 20% while Lincoln in up 30% lifted by the MKX crossover up 109%. But – and this is a big but – these gains have been achieved on the back of fleet sales up 40% to account for 36% of total deliveries and sales to rental companies more than doubling year-on-year to 41.000. A very unhealthy move indeed.
The F-Series is up 10% to 60.697 units, finally widening the gap with its immediate follower the Chevy Silverado at 43.136 (-5%) and outselling the GM twin full-size pickups as the GMC Sierra is stuck at 15.202 sales. FCA Fiat Chrysler Automobiles stretches its incredible run to 71 consecutive months of year-on-year increases at +12%, led by Ram (+27%), Jeep (+23%) and Dodge (+12%) whereas Fiat (-9%) and Chrysler (-26%). Nissan (up 11% to 130.911) and Honda (up 13% to 113.985) both set February records, while Toyota (187.954) is up a shyer 4%.
Just as its emission scandals spins further out of control, Volkswagen is among a handful of brands to suffer double-digit declines this month at -13%, all the while its premium division Audi remaining sheltered from the damage at +2% to 11.718 sales, the brand’s 62nd consecutive month of record U.S. sales. The other brands suffering this month include BMW (-11%), Infiniti (-11%), Mazda (-16%) and Mini (-24%). Among gainers, Scion (+52%) is doing its honour lap before being discontinued later this year, Volvo (+31%) is boosted by the XC90 and Tesla (+35%) by the Model X (official sales unavailable). Lexus (23.090) wins the luxury race above Mercedes (22.941 ex-Sprinter) and BMW (22.498) despite sales up just 0.4% on a year ago, and Subaru posts a 51st consecutive month of year-on-year gains at +2% and 42.011 deliveries.
Model-wise, the Ram Pickup cements its third position overall thanks to sales up a flamboyant 23%, the Toyota Corolla (+5%) is back to #2 passenger car below its larger colleague the Camry and above the Nissan Altima (-1%) while the Honda Civic only manages a #4 spot despite sales up 32% thanks to the new generation. The Toyota RAV4 is the #1 SUV in the country for the 2nd month running, the Ford Explorer gains 20% at #13, the Chevy Malibu is up 53% to #15 and the Nissan Sentra up 34% to #16. Other great gainers include the Ford Edge (+91%), Dodge Grand Caravan (+95%), Ford Transit (+70%), Nissan Murano (+86%) and Hyundai Tucson (+90%). The most popular newcomer (less than 12 month-old) is once again the Jeep Renegade (6.757 sales) followed by the Honda HR-V (4.940), Scion iA (2.305) and Mazda CX-3 (1.793).
Previous month: USA January 2016: SAAR up to 17.55m units despite snowstorms
Full February 2016 Top 275 models Ranking Table below.