US: March results show some were gunning for sales, others for profits image

Automakers in the United States, the world’s second largest auto market, were quick to mount a last effort offensive in the final days of last month to nudge past a very strong result posted last year.

When the tally came through, although analysts and industry experts expected a slowing result, the carmakers managed to post a slight improvement, with US light-vehicle deliveries also reaching their third highest monthly selling rate (SAAR – seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate) since the Great Recession. But the market’s strength lies under the lines – with automakers either mulling sales volume or lifting profits. Toyota, FCA US (the former Chrysler Group LLC) and South Korea’s Hyundai Kia managed to post stronger than expected positive results, with average transaction prices dropping as incentives soared and March deliveries jumped.

On the other side of the fence, General Motors, Ford and Nissan decided to lower purchase perks – and naturally deliveries slid 2.4 and 3.5 percent. But actually their profits were up, with average transaction prices rising 4 percent for all. Toyota’s 4.9 percent delivery surge was in direct relation to its 16 percent jump in incentives, according to TrueCar figures – though the company always increases incentives in March, as the Japanese parent rounds up its fiscal year. Ford on the other hand lowered incentives by 17 percent and its sales were down 3.5 percent. Meanwhile, profits soared as the average transaction price was up around $1,200 per vehicle to $32,974. The company also wanted to profit from its short supply of best-selling pickups, postponing fleet sales in favor of retail purchases.