The cold February weather that settled across the nation set the stage for something of a revolution in showrooms across the country as the Nissan Altima replaced the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord as the best-selling passenger car in the U.S.
The final sales totals for the month of February showed Nissan selling a total of 30,849 Altimas, an increase of 11.3%. Sales of the Toyota Camry, the most popular car in America for more than a decade, fell 7.3% to 28,998 units, while sales of the Honda Accord fell 12% to 24,622.
The decline in sales of the Camry and Accord also undercut the overall sales results for Toyota and Honda. Toyota sales slipped 4.3% despite and Honda’s fell 7% despite strong utility vehicle sales for both makers.
General Motors, Ford, Hyundai, BMW, Volvo and Volkswagen also reported that sales dropped last month when compared to sales in same month in 2013. Kia reported its sales were essentially flat for the month.
However, Nissan, Subaru, Jaguar Land Rover, Porsche, Audi and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) all hit on double-digit sales increases despite the adverse weather thanks to strong sales of sport utility vehicles.
Reid Bigland, head of sales at FCA’s Chrysler Group, said Jeep brand’s 47% increase in sales last month was the largest sales gain of group’s brands during the month. “The severe weather has been ideally suited for our legendary Jeep 4×4 capability, Bigland said.
Mercedes-Benz also posted a modest sales increase of 4.3%, widening its lead in the luxury segment over archrival BMW.
“I don’t like to make excuses, but the awful weather we saw across the country really hurt traffic to our dealerships and ultimately kept our sales at a pace well below what we were expecting,” said Bob Pradzinski, vice president of sales, Hyundai Motor America. “They say ‘If you want to see the sunshine you have to weather the storm,’ so we’re all looking forward to some sunshine in March.”
Overall, the figures from February were not as bad the might have been, considering the harsh winter that has settled over much of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.
“While extreme winter weather can definitely impede car sales, customers will likely return to the showrooms once spring arrives. Therefore, it is expected that factories will continue to produce vehicles in anticipation of the imminent higher sales,” noted Alex Gutierrez, an analyst with Kelly Blue Book.
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“However, any miss on any one of a number of assumptions can result in a spike in inventory, which could necessitate higher incentive levels. With this in mind, although GM didn’t grow sales in February, the fact that they reduced their inventory is a big win,” Gutierrez said.
Analysts also noted car makers have boosted incentives to help stabilize sales in the face of the winter weather that has left some key metropolitan areas, such as Atlanta, paralyzed at times.
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“Incentive spending is outpacing the rise in average transaction prices, despite year-over-year ATP increases for most automakers,” said Larry Dominique, president of ALG and executive vice president of TrueCar. “We expect a return to balance once the winter subsides and inventories ease.”
However, this points towards strong sales in the future.
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“The positive impact of the recovering stock market has been dampened by ongoing severe weather conditions, however year-over-year new-vehicle sales show that the industry is pushing to surpass the mark set in 2013,” said Jesse Toprak, an analyst with Cars.com.
The compact SUV segment is seeing a particularly high increase in demand. “Consumers can’t get enough small SUVs,” Toprak said. “The segment’s market share reached a record high 18% this month, up from 15% this time last year.”