(Bobit) — The seasonally adjusted annualized rate for 2019 light-vehicle sales fell to 16.58 million after U.S. dealers sold only 1.27 million new units in February, according to reports and estimates compiled by Automotive News. That’s a 2.9% decline from the same month a year ago. Experts blame slowing demand for SUVs, a growing affordability gap between new and used vehicles, and severe winter weather, among other factors.
“In addition, U.S. consumers are expecting lower tax returns, which may impact timing of some purchases,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst, IHS Markit. “Slow increases in interest rates and a reported increase in the average price of a new vehicle also suggest affordability headwinds may be coming into play.”
Among the automakers reporting increases were Jaguar Land Rover (29%), Hyundai-Kia (4.4%), and Subaru (3.9%). Subaru enjoyed its 86th consecutive month of improved U.S. sales.
But most factories posted year-over-year declines, led by Mercedes-Benz and Nissan, both of which saw new-unit sales fall by 12% compared with February 2018. Toyota (-5.2%) and Fiat Chrysler (-2.3%) also saw declines despite estimable gains by their Lexus (up 4.4%) and Ram (24%) divisions.
Ford and General Motors no longer announce monthly sales figures. Automotive News estimates Ford’s February sales were down 4.4% and GM declined by 5.3%. All told, it’s the weakest start to a new-vehicle sales year since 2014.
“January and February are typically slower sales months in the U.S., however, and there remains expectation that the slower pace in 2019 sales should support a profitable and strong automotive industry,” Brimley said.