Cold month chills sales, Cruze dips 16.2 percent


By Kalea Hall

khall@vindy.com

LORDSTOWN

The Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze did not surpass its sales record of February 2014.

Instead, the compact car took a 16.2 percent hit in sales with 18,301 delivered last month compared with 21,836 in February 2014.

Glenn Johnson, head of United Auto Workers Local 1112 at the Lordstown plant, believes the Cruze was just fighting the elements last month.

“I still think that [number of sales] speaks volumes for the Cruze with the climate we had in February,” Johnson said. “Let’s face it: [The Cruze] has held its own.”

Overall, February’s auto sales took a hit from the harsh weather much of the U.S. had, causing automakers to fall short of analysts’ sales predictions.

“It takes a special person to go out and buy a car at zero degrees,” said Tom Brittain, owner of Brittain Motors in East Palestine.

U.S. GM dealers delivered 231,378 vehicles last month for a 4 percent increase compared with last year. Retail sales were up 1 percent, and commercial and fleet deliveries were up 12 percent.

Trucks, SUVS, vans and pickups came out of the month with a 36 percent increase year over year.

“While trucks and SUVs did quite well, you look at small cars and you see continued weakness across the industry,” said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

KBB expected GM to see a 5.8 percent increase in February sales. The compact-car segment was expected to see an increase of 7 percent.

“Automakers are going to find it extremely difficult to stand out in those [small and midsize] segments,” Gutierrez said.

There could be more incentives on those segments in the future and more promotions by automakers, he said.

The Cruze wasn’t alone in taking a hit from the larger competition. Chevrolet Malibu’s sales dropped 19.9 percent from last February, and the Chevrolet Sonic was down 61.8 percent.

Other automakers also took a hit in the small- and midsize-car segment. Ford Focus sales dropped 12 percent, and Honda Accord sales were down 12.2 percent.

“[The Cruze sales] might get a little bit of a boost when the new one comes out,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at AutoTrader.com.

The next-generation Cruze is expected to be unveiled this year.

TrueCar’s estimates released last week showed GM with a 5.7 percent increase from February 2014.

Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights for TrueCar, attributed the decline in sales of the Cruze and other passenger cars to the strong correlation between the vehicles people buy and the gas prices at the given time. With gas prices still low, consumers are willing to buy larger vehicles.

“That is definitely going to hurt passenger vehicles,” he said.

Local dealers felt the impact on all sales, not just on the passenger cars. David Sabolsky, general sales manager of Spitzer Chevrolet in North Jackson, was happy the dealership was able to pass its sales objective from GM.

“That is a win for us,” he said.

Best sellers at the dealership remain the Chevrolet Equinox, Cruze and Silverado. GM reported a 0.6 percent increase in sales for the Equinox compared with last February and a 24.1 increase in sales on the Silverado.

Sabolsky expects to have a better month of sales in March with auto-show discounts out there and, hopefully, a break in the cold temperatures and heavy snowfall.

“The weather put a damper on us,” he said. “We move on and take it with a grain a salt.”

Overall, local dealers and analysts expect to see a positive year for the auto industry.

“Even with sales below our forecast, we are still seeing strong sales,” Lyman said.

FCA U.S. LLC reported U.S. sales of 163,586 units, a 6 percent increase compared with sales in February 2014, and the group’s best February sales since 2007.

Ford Motor Co. U.S. sales totaled 180,383 vehicles in February, down 2 percent from a year ago.

American Honda Motor Co. Inc. reported February Honda and Acura vehicle sales of 105,466 units, an increase of 5 percent versus February 2014.

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. reported February 2015 sales of 180,467, an increase of 13.3 percent from February 2014 on a volume basis.

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