Honda, Toyota, Nissan car purchases plunge but SUVs rise


Published 3:31 p.m. UTC Sep 4, 2018

Honda, Toyota, Nissan car purchases plunge but SUVs rise

Americans continued to flock to crossovers, SUVs and pickup trucks and abandon passenger cars in August, likely resulting in a slight increase in overall U.S. auto sales.

Forecasters at and Cox Automotive predicted industry sales increases of 1.2 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively.

The results showed that the auto industry remains healthy as shoppers buy more profitable vehicles.

But it's not all great news. For one thing, rising interest rates are scaring off some buyers. Zero-percent loans are drying up, and discounts are hard to find as automakers preserve profits.

"That means monthly payments for car buyers are going to get that much more difficult to meet," said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive. "The buying conditions are expected to deteriorate, which may cause consumers to get into the market today rather than wait."

What's more, passenger-car sales continue to plunge. Japanese automakers Toyota, Nissan and Honda — all known for their stalwart sedans — each reported dismal car sales for August.

Passenger cars dropped below 30 percent of the market in August for the first month ever, according to Cox Automotive. A few years ago, they made up half of the industry.

Overall, sales of mid-size cars and compact cars fell 15.6 percent and 13.6 percent to 130,000 and 160,000 vehicles, respectively, according to Cox Automotive. Passenger cars are flailing as shoppers choose roomier rides amid relatively low gasoline prices.

But average vehicle prices continue to rise largely because customers are buying more expensive types of vehicles: crossovers, SUVs and pickups.

The average vehicle price for the month, before discounts, was $35,541, according to Cox Automotive. That was up 1.8 percent from a year earlier.

Sales of compact crossovers and SUVs rose about 14.8 percent to about 285,000 vehicles, easily making it the largest segment in the market, Cox projected.

The next biggest, mid-size SUVs and crossovers, rose 9.7 percent to 220,000.

Here's how the major automakers fared in August:

General Motors

Edmunds forecast: -8.5 percent

Cox Automotive forecast: -7.5 percent

Actual results: GM no longer reports monthly sales results.

Ford Motor

Edmunds forecast: -1.8 percent

Cox Automotive forecast: -3.4 percent

Actual results: 4.1 percent (218,504 vehicles)

Ford surprised analysts with an overall sales increase despite abysmal sales of passenger cars, many of which the company is poised to discontinue altogether.

The namesake Ford brand was up 4.2 percent, while the luxury Lincoln lineup increased 2.7 percent.

The company's Ford F-series pickup truck lineup, which qualifies as the best-selling vehicle in the U.S., rose 6.3 percent to 81,839 units for the month.

Overall, Ford's SUVs posed a 20.1 percent sales increase, while car sales declined 21.3 percent.

Fiat Chrysler

Edmunds forecast: 15 percent

Cox Automotive forecast: 10.8 percent

Actual results:  10 percent (193,718 vehicles)

Fiat Chrysler's Jeep brand continues to lift the automaker, increasing 19.6 percent for the month to 87,502. That included whopping 85 percent and 76 percent increases for the Cherokee and Compass SUVs, respectively.

The Ram truck and van brand enjoyed a 26.5 percent sales increase. But the Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat brands were down 3.4 percent, 18.4 percent and 35.2 percent, respectively. The fledgling Alfa Romeo brand nearly doubled to 2,240 units.


Edmunds forecast: 0.5 percent

Cox Automotive forecast: 1 percent

Actual results: -2 percent (223,055 vehicles)

The Japanese automaker's stalwart passenger cars struggled mightily for the month, fallin 15.6 percent.

But its SUVs, crossovers and pickups increased 7.4 percent.

The Camry sedan plummeted 18.6 percent. But the 4Runner, Highlander and Land Crusier SUVs rocketed up 24.2 percent, 23.6 percent and 22.4 percent, respectively.

Overall, the namesake Toyota brand fell 1.2 percent, while the luxury Lexus lineup decliend 7.1 percent.


Edmunds forecast: 11.1 percent

Cox Automotive forecast: 6.2 percent

Actual results: 3.7 percent (101,580 vehicles)

Like its Japanese automaker counterparts, Nissan's passenger car sales went one day, while its crossovers, SUVs and pickups went the other day.

Sales of the automaker's cars plunged 16.2 percent, but the rest of its lineup was up 18.9 percent.

The Rogue crossover increased 11.9 percent to 33,400 units, more than doubling the next-closest model for the company.

And the Titan pickup was up 32.4 percent. But the Versa and Sentra small cars fell 53.5 percent and 12.9 percent, respectively.

Overall, the namesake Nissan brand increased 4.4 percent, while the Infiniti luxury lineup declined 1.7 percent.


Edmunds forecast: 2.5 percent

Cox Automotive forecast: -0.7 percent

Actual results: 1.3 percent (147,903 vehicles)

The fates of Honda's trucks and cars have diverged considerably.

The Japanese automaker's U.S. car sales fell 15.3 percent, but its sales of crossovers, SUVs and pickups increased 18.9 percent.

The company's stalwart Accord and Civic sedans suffered badly in August, with sales down 11 percent and 24.1 percent, respectively.

The CR-V crossover was easily the brand's best-seller as sales rose 11.8 percent to 34,610.

Overall, the namesake Honda brand fell 0.1 percent, while the much-smaller luxury Acura brand increased 14.8 percent.


Edmunds forecast: 3 percent

Cox Automotive forecast: 3.1 percent

Actual results: Not yet provided


Edmunds forecast: Not provided

Cox Automotive forecast: -0.3 percent

Actual results: Not yet provided

Volkswagen Group

Edmunds forecast: 3.1 percent (does not include Porsche)

Cox Automotive forecast: 4.4 percent

Actual results: The Volkswagen brand was up 0.7 percent to 32,255, powered mostly by the brand's SUVs.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

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