Fiat Chrysler, GM lead sales gains for strong end to 2014
General Motors Co. (GM), Ford Motor Co. (F) and other major automakers reported rising vehicles sales in the U.S. in December, capping the best year since 2006 thanks to cheap fuel and low interest rates.
While all of the biggest automakers reported gains in the month, only GM and Nissan Motor Co. did better than analysts had predicted. The market's shift to light trucks, which outsold cars in every month of the year for the first time since 2004, played to the strengths of GM and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCAU), such as their sport-utility vehicles and large pickups. Shoppers last year were undeterred by record recalls, mostly of older models.
"It's a very good sales month," said Maryann Keller, an independent automotive consultant in Stamford, Connecticut. "The biggest challenge for this year will be sustaining the sales pace. We will see more incentives this year and they will be much more visible to consumers."
Automakers and analysts project that sales will rise again in 2015 for an unprecedented sixth straight year as the strengthening job market, available credit and the lowest gasoline prices in more than half a decade bolstered consumer confidence. Light-vehicle sales may total 16.7 million, Toyota Motor Corp. said on a conference call, adding that there's "room for upside" to that forecast.
The annualized selling rate, adjusted for seasonal trends, was 16.9 million, according to researcher Autodata Corp. The tally is down slightly from November's 17.2 million, but still the third-fastest pace of the year. A year earlier, the pace was 15.5 million.
Dealers last month sold 1.51 million cars and light trucks, according to the Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based researcher. That topped the 1.5 million predicted by the average of seven analysts' estimates. The full-year total was 16.5 million, 58 percent more than in 2009, when General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC restructured in bankruptcy. Light-vehicle sales in the U.S. averaged 16.8 million from 2000 to 2007. The record, set in 2000, was 17.4 million. GM's 274,483 sales produced a 19 percent gain, compared with analysts' forecast of 13 percent. Detroit-based GM was helped by light trucks, with its GMC brand posting a 23 percent gain including a 31 percent rise in Yukon large SUV sales and a 38 percent jump for the mid-size Terrain SUV. Chevrolet had strong sales for its Silverado pickup and Tahoe large SUV. Buick led the way with a 32 percent increase, which was pushed by 20 percent cash-back discounts on its cars. Cadillac was its only brand that didn't grow, sliding 11 percent for the month.
Ford's light-vehicle sales rose 1.3 percent, less than the 2.8 percent increase projected by analysts. Its gains were held back by slower sales of its three top models. F-Series pickup sales fell slightly amid reduced production during the factory conversion to making an F-150 truck with an all-aluminum body. Sales of every Ford brand car except for the Mustang fell last month.
Ford fell 3.9 percent to close at $14.76. GM slid 1.5 percent to $34.33, while Fiat Chrysler dropped 3.8 percent to $11.25 amid a broad sell-off of equities. FCA US sold 193,261 cars and trucks last month, up 20 percent for December and giving full-year sales a 16 percent boost on its way to gaining the most market share. Analysts had estimated a jump of 23 percent last month. Chrysler brand sales rose 53 percent, led by the new 200 family sedan, which nearly tripled deliveries, to 16,229. It was the brand's best December in seven years. Jeep sales jumped 19 percent to 63,274, powered by the Cherokee, Grand Cherokee and the Wrangler. Ram pickups soared 32 percent to 44,222. For the year, Ram pickup sales jumped 24 percent to 439,789.