Robust Retail and Fleet Closing Boosts US Auto Sales in February

Overall February new-vehicle sales were more robust than expected, due to strong closing retail sales and higher fleet deliveries than projected, according to analysis from J.D. Power’s Power Information Network® (PIN) and LMC Automotive.*

Retail sales in February reached nearly 888,000 units—8.5% higher than totals in the same month last year, and 25% stronger than in January this year (selling-day adjusted). The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate, or SAAR, for the month was 12.4 million units, which was 1.4 million units higher than February last year, and 1.5 million units stronger than in January 2012.

February fleet sales also improved more than anticipated, climbing nearly 21% from a year ago, and were nearly 9% higher than in the first month this year, although the fleet SAAR was down from January 2012. Fleet sales accounted for 22.6% of total sales in February.

Total sales (retail and fleet) in the U.S. market ended the month up 11.1% from February a year ago, and increased nearly 21% from the first month this year. February’s total SAAR averaged 15.0 million units, up significantly from last month and from February a year ago.

Captives Earn Higher Percentage of Retail Transactions in February

Financial trends from PIN retail transaction data indicate that the average new-vehicle negotiated price in February was nearly 1 point (0.8%) higher than February 2011, but down 1.3% from last month (not seasonally adjusted). The average cash rebate amount was down 5.3% from February 2011, but up 7.5% from January 2012. Now that  Honda and Toyota Groups’ inventories are returning to normal conditions (after last year’s production setbacks in Japan following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami), the other manufacturers have been increasing their marketing programs.

Both retail cash sales and finance sales percentages were up from a a year ago, while lease transactions fell 4.6 percentage points from last February. New vehicles remained on dealer lots an average of 47 days before being sold—two days longer than in January 2012, but nine days shorter than last February’s 56 days. The retail turn rate in February was still well below the industry norm of 60 days.

Most major vehicle segments achieved year-over-year sales increases in February. New model entries boosted sales in the Sub-Compact Conventional and Midsize Conventional car segments, which experienced the largest advances—up 38% and nearly 24%, respectively. The new Chevrolet Sonic was the second-best-selling sub-compact model, with 7,900 unit deliveries, while the redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry, including the Camry hybrid, was the best-selling car model in the U.S., with February sales reaching 34,542.

In the fleet mix, the Large Conventional and Midsize Van segments posted major gains—up 57% and 37.6%, respectively. The best-selling large conventional model in February was the Chevrolet Impala with 15,333 unit sales, while the Dodge Caravan dominated the midsize van segment with 12,668 unit sales.

*J.D. Power and LMC Automotive have a strategic alliance to share data and produce monthly new-vehicle retail sales forecasts based on J.D. Power’s real-time transaction data gathered from more than 8,900 retail franchisees throughout the United States, and LMC Automotive’s analysis and intelligence.

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