New Car Sales Fall For Three Consecutive Months, A First Since The Recession

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include Ford's sales numbers, which were delayed because of a fire that affected its data center.

Sales of new cars tumbled 5.8% in October, boosted only by America’s overwhelming appetite for trucks and SUVs, automakers reported Tuesday. It was the automotive industry’s third straight month of weakening sales, a pattern not seen since the recession.

Nearly every major brand saw a decline in new vehicle sales last month, but some automakers with new or refreshed SUVs reported gains. Sales at Jaguar, which introduced its first-ever F-Pace SUV earlier this year, more than tripled for the brand’s best October performance since 2004.

Even as the industry’s post-recession recovery tapers, low prices at the pump have sustained the demand for vehicles that sit higher and accommodate more passengers and cargo space than sedans. Automakers aren’t complaining about the trend, as larger vehicles often mean larger profits.

 

“We are thrilled that Jaguar is tracking to be the fastest growing brand in the U.S. and is nearing a 100% increase for the year on the strength of a number of new products,” Joe Eberhardt, President and CEO of Jaguar Land Rover North America, said in a statement Tuesday.

Industry-wide car sales plunged 15% in October while sales of SUVs, vans, and pickup trucks rose .8%, according to Autodata Corp. The decline is partly due to two fewer selling days in the month compared to October 2015 but suggests that the sector’s resurgence is starting to slow.

Overall, the industry’s growth has flatlined for the first 10 months of the year, down just .2%. Car sales have fallen 9% so far, while SUVs, vans, and pickup trucks have gained 7%.

“October is a tough month for the auto industry since there is neither a holiday weekend, nor a strong call-to-action message for consumers that we typically see every other month,” said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at Edmunds. The month also marks the end of summer deals and promotional interest rates. The latest figures peg the average new car interest rate at 4.6%, the highest since June.

Edmunds estimates that SUVs, vans, and pickup trucks composed 62% of vehicle sales, compared with 55% last October.

The demand for trucks, crossovers, and SUVs propelled otherwise sluggish sales at several brands. At Toyota, sales fell 9%, but its Highlander midsize SUV sold 33% more units, catapulting the truck to its best-ever October sales record.

Honda’s sales were off 2%, with the brand’s CR-V compact crossover reporting its best-ever October sales. Honda’s upscale Acura brand reported a 20% decline in overall sales but said its redesigned MDX midsize SUV led an 8.4% increase for its truck division.

Porsche’s SUV sales rose 40% on higher demand for the Macan compact SUV, lifting the brand to an 11% gain in October overall. At BMW, crossovers were a bright spot, comprising 47% of the brand’s October sales, even as performance fell 18% overall.

“The volatility of the U.S. market is more clearly evident as the pace of sales continues slowing from the peak of 2015,” said Ludwig Willisch, President and CEO of BMW of North America.