Robust sales are projected for light vehicles the rest of the year, despite a slight dip in September in comparison with previous months, according to data analyzed by research firms J. D. Power & Associates and LMC Automotive.
John Humphrey, J.D. Power’s senior VP- global automotive practice, noted that new-vehicle retail sales this September are expected to top 933,400 units, a 2% increase compared to the same month last year, pegging the seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) for new light vehicle retail sale in September at around 12.4 million units.
"Although the year-over-year sales gain in September is smaller than has been observed in recent months, it's important to recognize that September reported sales are being heavily influenced by a quirk on the industry sales calendar," he said.
Humphrey explained that as the auto industry reports sales on a monthly basis rather than on a “calendar month” basis, Labor Day holiday sales got counted in August rather than September. J.D. Power estimates that more than 248,000 new vehicles were sold during the Labor Day weekend and had those sales been included in September, he pointed out, they would have lifted the monthly SAAR into the low 13 million unit range.
A better picture of the continued strength of light vehicle sales comes from combining August and September retail sales figures, which are expected to be up 10.6% compared to those same two months in 2012 – underscoring what Humphrey called “the continued positive trajectory in growth and overall health of the industry.”
That “positive trajectory” is also continuing to drive light vehicle redesign efforts, as 28 redesigned models are expected to hit the market in 2014, up from nine in 2013, according to LMC.
Toyota for example recently showed off a new SR package for its compact Tacoma pickup that will be offered for its PreRunner and 4x4 Access Cab and Double Cab base grade models in 2014, though is plans to discontinue its Tacoma X-Runner sport truck offering.
The Japanese automaker added that the manufacturer’s suggest retail price or MSRP for the 2014 Tacoma will range from $17,875 for the Regular Cab 4x2 with a four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission to $28,285 for the Double Cab 4x4 V6 Long Bed with a five-speed automatic; pricing that reflects an average increase of $100, or 0.4%, it stressed.
The Chevrolet and GMC divisions of General Motors also recently revealed all-new versions of their respective full-size SUVs – the Tahoe and Suburban and Yukon and Yukon XL – equipped with the automaker’s new EcoTec3 line of engines for the 2015 model year.
The 2015 Tahoe and Suburban, revealed recently in New York, are designed to be more functional and refined while offering more safety features and a greater range of advanced technologies for today’s connected customers, GM said, while the 2015 Yukon, Yukon XL and flagship Yukon Denali models, revealed in Los Angeles, will deliver greater capability and refinement, with more power, new fold-flat rear seats and a quieter interior.
GM added that so far in 2013, Chevrolet and GMC have sold 125,000 Chevrolet Tahoes and Suburbans and GMC Yukons and Yukon XLs.
Motor Co. is also reporting that the strong sales pace of the light vehicle market is driving demand for its EcoBoost engines, which are being spec’d heavily within in its F-150 pickup line.
The OEM said more than 100,000 EcoBoost engines now produced every month, up from 65,000 last year, with a target of 1.2 million for 2013 – up more than 60% from 2012. Ford also expects EcoBoost production will exceed its global diesel-engine production rates this year.
To date, Ford said it has built 2 million EcoBoost engines since its introduction in 2009 and is doubling production the 1.0-liter version constructed at its Cologne, Germany, plant to 1,000 engines per day, while investing $200 million to build a 2.0-liter version of the EcoBoost in the U.S. at its Cleveland, OH, facility starting in 2014.
Joe Bakaj, Ford’s VP-powertrain engineering, noted that the global EcoBoost engine family now includes the 1.0-liter three-cylinder model; 1.5-liter, 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines; and the 3.5-liter V6. EcoBoost technology is available in every region Ford serves worldwide, and will be offered on approximately 80% of the company’s global nameplates by the end of 2013, he added.
Bakaj also pointed out that 42% of F-150 pickup trucks are now purchased with the 3.5-liter version of the EcoBoost and that by the end of 2013, the EcoBoost will be available for more than 90% of its North American nameplates, rising to 95% by 2015.
In terms of North American-specific light vehicle production, Jeff Schuster, senior VP-forecasting at LMC, noted that volumes year-to-date through August remain up 4% relative to the same period in 2012, with volume up nearly 400,000 units to 10.7 million units.
Overall light vehicle inventory also remains relatively low, at 2.9 million units, so given that capacity utilization is currently above 90%, the lean level of inventory is expected to continue throughout the remainder of 2013, with supply lingering below the 60-day level, he said.
LMC is also still holding to its North American production forecast of 16 million units for 2013, a 4% increase from 2012, with its 2014 production forecast currently pegged at 16.5 million units, up 3% from this year’s current pace.
"Balancing growth with risk, and with all positive variables perfectly aligned, the automotive market right now is as strong as we've seen in several years,” Schuster said.