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On the radar: Motor vehicle sales decline in January

Sales of domestically-produced new motor vehicles declined in January to 12.8 million units (SAAR) as demand was worn out after a strong end to 2018. The last months of 2018 got a boost after Hurricanes Florence and Michael, and the wildfires in California created a need to replace destroyed vehicles.

Domestic passenger cars decelerated less (down to 4.071 million units in January after 4.040 million in December) than did light trucks (8.750 million after 9.493). January often compares less favorably to December because the sales month includes the New Years Day period when discounts and incentives draw in some buyers.

Sales of foreign built passenger cars rose a bit (1.166 million in January after 1.131 million in December), while foreign light trucks slowed (2.613 million after 2.828 million).

Overall, sales of the light truck category — minivans, SUVs, and crossovers — continue to outpace passenger cars by more than 2-to-1. Sales in this category also benefited from a rapid decline in gasoline prices that makes the lower mile-per-gallon vehicles less costly to operate and therefore a more attractive purchase.

The decline in auto sales will keep the overall dollar total of retail sales lower for January even allowing for seasonal adjustment at a time when motor vehicle purchasing naturally moves into the slow lane.

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