Some Lessons from the 2019 Sales Numbers
While 2019 ended with more sales than had been anticipated by analysts at the start of the year, and while many of the same analysts are suggesting that this year won’t be as strong as last year (terms like “cooling” and “softening” are being used because, let’s face it: that’s not suggesting anything too untoward, and unless something really major happens, it is more or less like saying a day will be “mostly sunny,” the meteorological dodge for coming down one side or the other).
But there are a few takeaways from last year’s sales that are instructive vis-à-vis how the overall market is developing and it may be useful to see the past just in case it will actually be prologue for this year.
The lesson here is that the importance of SUVs notwithstanding, cars still count.
For the full year 2019, Volkswagen of America was in the black, with a sales gain of 2.6%. What is surprising is that the Jetta—yes, a car—saw its sales go up by 11% compared with full-year 2018, which would be enough to breakout the currywurst for a bit of celebration. There were 100,453 Jettas sold last year, which if taken in the context of some other vehicles may not seem to be a whole lot—for example, Chevy Malibu sales for 2019 were 131,917 and they were off 8.7% for the year—but the Jetta’s sales represent some 27% percent of VWoA sales for the year, the total being 363,322.
Ups and Downs
But here the story turns to what you’d expect it to: crossovers/SUVs. Cars in the VW lineup didn’t do well, with few exceptions in addition to the Jetta. For example, the Golf and the GTI were down 15 and 30%, respectively. But the Golf R was up 22% and the electric e-Golf was up an incredible 259%, but the total sales for each were 4,223 and 4,863, so it isn’t like a big contribution to the overall year. The Beetle, which is now behind us, was down 11% in the coupe variant (7,704) but the convertible was up 65% to 9,511. Passat? Down 66% to 14,123 units.
Then we turn to the Tiguan and the Atlas. Tiguan sales were up 22%, representing 109,572 units. Atlas had a similarly strong showing, up 37%, or 81,508. Those two alone account for 191,080 units for VW. Should anyone be surprised that VW will be coming out with a variant of the Atlas, the Atlas Cross Sport?
VWoA did a survey that found 87% of SUV owners don’t plan to ever own anything but an SUV. So if you wonder why the VW ID.3 electric wunderkind isn’t coming to the U.S., here’s a hint: it is a compact five-door hatch.
And that is pretty much the routine at other OEMs, with cars not contributing a whole lot to the total figures and SUVs hauling the freight. (Although it should be noted that Jeep sales were actually down 5% to 923,291 units—which is the biggest single brand in the FCA US lineup, far more than the sales of Chrysler (126,971), Dodge (422,886), Fiat (9,200) and Alfa Romeo (18,292) combined (577,349).)
Light trucks, of course, are continued stalwart contributors: in the case of FCA, for example, Ram was up 18% (the only brand in the showroom to have an arrow pointing in the right direction), with sales of 703,023 units.
And the other example comes from Toyota (and no, not that with 2019 sales of 336,978 units, the Camry is, once again, the best-selling car in the U.S.)
Rather, it is about hybrid sales. “Prius” is pretty much the dictionary definition of “hybrid.” Yet Prius sales have been declining over the past few years at a somewhat precipitous rate. That is, in 2017 108,663 were sold. 2018 saw a 19.4% decline to 87,590 units. And Prius sales for 2019 were down 20.4%, to 69,718 vehicles.
Which could lead to the conclusion that people don’t want hybrids. After all, gas is cheap and who wants to spend more money on a powertrain? Evidently, more than one might expect.
The Toyota RAV4 compact crossover had record sales in 2019, 448,071 units, up 4.9%. Of that number, 92,525 were hybrids. That represents a 92.3% increase over its 2018 number.
Toyota has continued its commitment to providing a range of hybrids. There is the Prius as well as hybrid variants of the Corolla, Camry, Avalon, Highlander, and, of course, the RAV4. All in, Toyota sold 229,387 hybrids in 2019, or about 11% of the total 2,085,235 Toyota Division vehicles sold last year.
The lesson here, I think, is that the importance of SUVs notwithstanding, cars still count. Another example in the car category—which is far, far away from the Jetta—is the Dodge Charger, up 21% to 96,935 vehicles in 2019.
And with the growing attention to fully electric vehicles, hybrids shouldn’t be overlooked. Greta Thunberg turned 17 on January 3, and while the age to get a driver’s license in Sweden is 18, she can still get a permit.
The previous-generation Hyundai Elantra (2010 to 2015) had the edgy Fluidic Sculpture design forming its sheet metal; it’s bigger brethren, the Sonata, was more visible in this regard, though the smaller size of the Elantra gave the skin a greater tautness than was the case on the Sonata.
The common wisdom seems to be that midsize cars have pretty much had it in the U.S. new car market.
Ford has made an accomplishment that will never be bested, never even be tied.