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

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.

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Read/Post Comments (13) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2014, at 10:44 AM, sabebrush6 wrote:

    Before Obama gas prices: $1.84 a gallon.

    After Obama gas prices: $3.76 a gallon.

    Like your bought & paid for Muslim ?

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2014, at 10:47 AM, hunter3203 wrote:

    Just a slight correction. Ford's Ecoboost motors use turbochargers driven by the exhaust, not superchargers driven by the crankshaft.

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2014, at 10:50 AM, hunter3203 wrote:

    Sagebrush6 - what are you talking about? Gasoline prices hit $4 a gallon BEFORE President Obama took office. They've been on a rising long term trend for decades.

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2014, at 11:24 AM, sogole wrote:

    Amricans are BROKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2014, at 12:41 PM, Beastb15 wrote:


    January 19, 2009 - National Average for gasoline was $1.85/gallon

    Obama was inaugurated January 20, 2009.

    What are you confused about exactly?

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2014, at 1:44 PM, hunter3203 wrote:

    Bestb15 - That's a one day price. So what?

    Average price of gas on 1/15/01 was $1.51

    Gas first started averaging at least $2.00 per gallon on 5/17/04.

    On 7/10/06 it hit $3.02.

    On 7/7/08 is hit $4.16

    In the year BEFORE President Obama was inaugurated gas AVERAGED $3.22 per gallon

    In the year AFTER President Obama was inaugurated gas AVERAGED $2.47 per gallon

    You and Sagebrush are trying to say that gas suddenly went up just because President Obama assumed office. That's totally false. Gas was TEMORARILY down for a few weeks before and after the election and then resumed it's long term trend upward. Btw, we still haven't exceeded the highest price of gas that occurred under President Bush's administration.

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2014, at 2:19 PM, Mrrobinson wrote:

    Earlier comments are proof political rhetoric has crossed over to something I believed was non-political, shows ignorance and prejudice!

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2014, at 5:08 PM, CatherlineLin wrote:

    The Ford F-150 is the top selling car in the states currently, and will be for quite some time, so congrats to Ford. Glad to see chevy is doing well all things considering.

    I love my Chevy Equinox. It's been super reliable and gas mileage is good for an AWD (25MPG). A friend has their FWD version and gets about 30MPG. Insurance for it is cheap too ($25/month from Inusrance Panda).

    I’m 5’0 and getting in and out has never been an issue. The rear seat also moves forward & back so you can either increase leg room or increase cargo space, depending on your needs.

    Chevy needs to revamp the Equinox and to be honest a new look for the silverado is long overdo. The design is good as it always looks modern but still its hard to tell the difference between the years.

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2014, at 11:59 PM, StockgeniusII wrote:

    Honda Accord Hybrid EX-L is a very slow moving model. I personally never wanted to buy a Hybrid car in the first place. Just more trouble in doing maintenance. The Toyota Prius is very costly to maintain but nobody mentions this fact until the warranty runs out! LOL! One of my Prius owners found this out after 3 years! $2K for maintenance!

  • Report this Comment On April 16, 2014, at 7:34 AM, Barmil wrote:

    Overall wages are going down, prices keep going up.

    What is the confusion about. We have out spent the buying base of people that use to be able to afford a new car.

  • Report this Comment On April 16, 2014, at 8:06 AM, dimestop wrote:

    a couple simple REALITY points about THE PRICE OF GASOLINE...

    a. the price of gasoline under Obama is "because of a couple factors...

    b. one there is a thing called LAGTIME ...that means "you RUN UP THE BILL when you're eating out...Obama WAS "LATE TO THE TABLE" AND GOT "STIFFED WITH THE CHECK" for most of the IRAQ - AFGHANISTAN THING...


    of the "Bush/Cheney" Repubs...and their WELFARE ENTILTLEMENTS to their "defense contractro buddies"...

    d. but Obama still "has to pick up the check" GOT THAT dumb Repub fans...


    that's the "buddies of the Repubs"

    (like in Cheney HALIBURTON...that ring a bell with you) YOU WANT CHEAPER GASOLINE...go see Cheney/Bush and company... it's THEIR BUDDIES WHO CONTROL THE "PRICE OF OIL" AND THEREFORE GASOLINE...



    "follow the money" applies...

  • Report this Comment On April 16, 2014, at 9:25 AM, Poorthing wrote:

    Let's no try and play down the effect of this Presidents energy agenda. He is on record for wanting $4.00 a gallon gas prices. He has done everything he can to accomplish this by reducing the growth in our fossil fuel/energy production which obviously increases the cost of all forms of energy including gas. Time to stop blaming Bush for this Presidents agenda driven problems which in part include anti fossil fuel,anti Capitalism and big government first American people be dammed. Meanwhile the out of control debt and spending from his policies is eating up the future of the next generation and we should all be ashamed for letting this continued.

  • Report this Comment On April 16, 2014, at 10:39 AM, BocaRicky wrote:

    OK...enough of the arguments re: gas prices.


    Opec and oil is traded on AMERICAN DOLLARS.

    Due to the Obama/Bernake scheme to keep interest rates at all time LOWS... The American Dollar has lost much of its value. Traders around the world who speculate on currencies, have devalued the dollar. Therefore, it takes MORE DOLLARS to buy oil.

    Not only has Obama and Bernake both caused an increase in prices in oil/gasoline...they have hurt the Seniors in this country who were counting on at least 5% CDs to supplement their incomes.....

    Perhaps Americans can read a little to figure this out and get a Republican majority in the senate to overturn this travesty.

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Sean Williams

A Fool since 2010, and a graduate from UC San Diego with a B.A. in Economics, Sean specializes in the healthcare sector and in investment planning topics. You'll usually find him writing about Obamacare, marijuana, developing drugs, diagnostics, and medical devices, Social Security, taxes, or any number of other macroeconomic issues.

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