Carmakers capped their first year of shrinking U.S. sales since the recession on a high note, with Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. reporting better than expected demand last month.
Deliveries rose 1.3% for Ford and fell 3.3% for GM, both beating analysts’ average estimates. The F-Series pickup line had its best year since 2005 while sales of Chevrolet Silverado trucks surged 25%.
All major automakers had been projected to report declining sales to wrap up the market’s first down year since 2009, when GM and Chrysler went bankrupt. GM predicted the industry would post an annualized selling rate for December, adjusted for seasonal trends, of 18.2 million light vehicles, matching the pace set a year earlier and beating the average estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News.
“Auto sales got off to a sluggish start in 2017 but managed to finish in a fairly decent place,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at car-shopping website Edmunds. “Shopper traffic to dealerships really picks up once we get on the other side of the Christmas holiday as automakers pull out all the stops to eke out every last sale before the end of the year.”
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV reported an 11% decline for the month, in line with analyst estimates. While the automaker’s U.S. sales have dropped each of the last 16 months, it’s been curbing discounted shipments to rental-car companies and other fleet buyers. Deliveries to those customers plunged 42% in December.
Sales in 2018 will probably drop again thanks in part to higher interest rates and greater availability of used sport utility vehicles. The average analyst estimate is for 16.7 million light-vehicle sales in 2018, which is still a healthy level by historical standards.
Light trucks, which include pickups and SUVs, gained share last year, accounting for 63% of U.S. sales through November, up from 59% a year earlier, according to researcher Autodata Corp. Consumers like the extra storage space, higher seating position and improved fuel economy of car-based SUVs.
By Jamie Butters, Keith Naughton and David Welch.