Why Sales of These 4 Best-Selling Vehicles Are Down Significantly This Year

Following what was the auto industry's best year since 2007, these four vehicles have hit a pothole in 2014. Are these best-selling vehicles in a temporary sales slump or is there something more serious going on?

Apr 13, 2014 at 2:41PM

Last year was a banner year for the auto sector: Total sales hit 15.6 million, the highest level since prior to the recession, and a 7.6% year-over-year gain. Not only did total sales rise, but every major automaker saw their respective sales improve compared to the previous year. 

This year, however, hasn't presented the auto sector with the best set of circumstances. The polar vortex wrapped about half the nation in record cold and snow for much of January and February, hampering sales for a number of domestic and overseas automakers, and stymieing sales of select models on car lots across much of North America.


2014 Ford F-150, Source: Ford

Of course, not all of the top-selling vehicles in the U.S. are struggling. Trucks, such as Ford's (NYSE:F) F-Series pickups have thrived in this harsh driving environment. On April 1, Ford noted that sales of its F-Series crossed the 70,000 unit threshold in March, the fourth month the automaker has done so in the past seven years.  

Nissan has also seen a big revival in the U.S. Sales of its Rogue crossover are up a whopping 47.1% year to date, and the Sentra sales are up a respectable 23.6%. 

Overall, sales of eight of the 20 best-selling vehicles in March are up year to date; another eight are down by modest single-digit amounts. This means, however, that March sales of four of the top-selling vehicles are currently down by double-digit amounts year to date.

Let's have a closer look at what might be dragging down these best-sellers to see if it's a temporary bump that'll even itself out in short order, or if there could be something more worrisome going on behind the scenes for these auto manufacturers.

Honda Accord
Overall, sales for Honda Motor (NYSE:HMC) dipped 2% in March, but they did show signs of an ongoing recovery with total unit sales of 133,318 jumping 32% from February. The one standout, albeit to the downside, is that sales for its Accord sedan are down 13.6% year to date.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid EX-L, Source: Honda Motor

Although Accord still ranked as the seventh-best-selling car in the U.S. in March with 32,616 units sold, total sales of the vehicle fell close to 11% from last March. Honda blamed the weather for the shortfall in a press release, but also pointed to price incentive deals from competitors as a reason why Accord has struggled to move off dealer lots. Investors needn't worry because it looks like the effect of a few months of predominantly weather-induced weakness following a rise in Accord sales by a healthy 10.5% last year in the U.S. Also, consider that the Accord was fully redesigned in 2013, and it'd be unlikely that consumers have suddenly lost faith in the highly dependable and fuel-efficient flagship sedan.

Expect this dip to be temporary, but investors will still want to monitor sales of the Accord closely into the summer.

Ford Focus
Of the 20 best-selling vehicles in March, none have taken a bigger swan dive year to date than Ford's compact vehicle, the Focus. Despite logging nearly 24,000 units in March, sales fell year-over-year by 3.8% and are down better than 16% year to date.

2014 Ford Focus, Source: Ford

You can partially blame the weather for its weaker sales, but the bigger issue is one that Foolish senior auto analyst John Rosevear touched on in February -- a lack of a major redesign. As John noted, the Focus hasn't had a major redesign in some time, while both of its primary competitors, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla have much fresher styling. Ford has been focused on developing a number of newer models, such as the Fusion, and have left the Focus on the backburner for the time being, hampering its sales.

One thing to keep in mind, as John also pointed out, is that a redesigned Focus is on the horizon for 2015. It's probably only a matter of time before sales pick up again as it, too, has been a model of reliability, fuel-efficiency, and cost-effective pricing in the U.S. for Ford. Unfortunately, its age has finally caught up a bit and it's unlikely to be a big growth story until its aforementioned redesign is officially unveiled next week at the New York International Auto Show.

Ford Explorer
Coming in 18th out of 20 in the sales-affected, best-selling vehicles is Ford's SUV, the Explorer, which sold 19,334 units sold in March, a 4% improvement from the year-ago period but down 10% on the dot year to date.

2014 Ford Explorer. Source: Ford

I wish I could say that the culprit here was the weather, but trucks and SUVs are actually go-to vehicles that sell better in inclement weather, so that's not the case. In actuality, rising fuel prices appear to be dooming some midsize and large SUVs as consumers trade down to more fuel-efficient small SUVs like the Honda CR-V.

Over the past two months gas prices have risen by about $0.30 per gallon, putting the brakes to any would-be surge in midsize and large SUV sales. It's also disappointing because in November gas prices had been nudged to their lowest national average since 2010, giving automakers hope that high-margin SUVs would once again be viewed in good light by consumers. 

However, don't feel too bad for Ford -- its crossover vehicle the Edge and its compact SUV the Escape are both delivering impressive fuel economy with the EcoBoost engine available on both models. Ford's EcoBoost engines utilize superchargers to give drivers power when they need it, but also allows the engine to sip rather than guzzle gasoline when that power isn't needed to improve fuel efficiency. In other words, Explorer sales may continue to struggle unless gas prices drop, but Ford has other tricks up its sleeve to keep customers loyal to the brand.

Hyundai Sonata
Lastly, sales of the Hyundai (NASDAQOTH:HYMTF) Sonata, in spite of a 6.7% increase in March year over year that led to 19,248 units being sold, are down almost 15% year to date.

2014 Hyundai Sonata, Source: Hyundai Motor

Back in early March, Bob Pradzinski, vice president of sales for Hyundai, placed the blame squarely on the weather: "I don't like to make excuses, but the awful weather we saw across the country really hurt traffic to our dealerships and ultimately kept our sales at a pace well below what we were expecting." Sales did improve in March, but they're well off their typical pace. 

The bigger concern for Hyundai appears to be the need for a successful introduction of its newly redesigned Sonata in 2015. Like the Ford Focus, Hyundai's Sonata has gone far too long without a major overhaul; it was last redesigned in 2009! For cost-conscious consumers looking for sleek styling and improved fuel-efficiency, the Sonata simply hasn't offered the same flare as its competitors.

The good news is that Hyundai did reveal the all-new Sonata in South Korea just three weeks ago and the sneak peek of the new model demonstrated a number of new conveniences and luxury features designed to attract cost-conscious luxury seekers. The official unveiling in the United States will come at the New York International Auto Show next week, and it's difficult to imagine the Sonata falling flat after being a staple of reliability for so many years.

This top stock could be your ticket to taking advantage of rising fuel prices
Imagine a company that rents a very specific and valuable piece of machinery for $41,000... per hour (that's almost as much as the average American makes in a year!). And Warren Buffett is so confident in this company's can't-live-without-it business model, he just loaded up on 8.8 million shares. An exclusive, brand-new Motley Fool report reveals the company we're calling OPEC's worst nightmare. Just click HERE to uncover the name of this industry-leading stock for free... and join Buffett in his quest for a veritable LANDSLIDE of profits!

Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.

The Motley Fool owns shares of, and recommends Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers