General Motors (NYSE:GM) said that its U.S. sales fell 6.3% in the fourth quarter of 2019, after a nationwide strike against GM's U.S. factories left dealers short of key products. But pricing remained high, suggesting that demand for the automaker's latest vehicles hasn't abated despite the strike. 

For the full year, GM's U.S. sales were down 2.3% from 2018. That result trailed the market: Overall U.S. light-vehicle sales fell about 1% in 2019, according to Automotive News. 

The highs and lows of GM's sales report

The high points:

  • GM's average transaction prices were $37,558 in the fourth quarter and $36,844 for the year, according to J.D Power data. Both are records. 
  • Tight supplies -- a result of the 40-day strike -- led to fourth-quarter sales declines for some of the company's hot-selling crossovers, including the Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse (down 6.3% and 14.9%, respectively), the Buick Enclave (down 29.7%), and the GMC Acadia (down 22.5%). But all of those models, and most of GM's other crossovers, posted full-year sales gains despite the quarterly declines.
  • The Cadillac luxury brand's shift to crossovers is working: Sales of Cadillac's crossovers rose 22.4% for the year, helped by the all-new three-row XT6.
  • As a group, sales of GM's crossovers rose 12.7% for the year to about 1.17 million.
  • GM's full-size pickup sales were down a bit for the full year, but retail sales -- and sales of high-profit crew-cab models generally -- both rose from 2018. 
A silver 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD, a heavy-duty pickup truck, driving along a road with trees in the background

Sales of the heavy-duty version of the all-new Chevy Silverado pickup rose 7.3% in the fourth quarter. Image source: General Motors.

The low points:

  • Sales of GM's big SUVs -- the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, the GMC Yukon, and the Cadillac Escalade -- were all down in the fourth quarter and for the full year. These are important drivers of profit for the company. All-new versions of all four models are expected this year. 
  • GM has discontinued many of its sedan models, but the few that remain aren't performing well. Sales of the bestseller, the Chevrolet Malibu, fell 7.5% in the fourth quarter and were down 8.7% for the year. 
  • Sales of the electric Chevrolet Bolt fell 46.8% in the fourth quarter and were down 8.9% for all of 2019, a disappointing performance for GM's pioneering battery-electric model. 

The takeaway for GM investors

GM probably did what it had to do to deliver results in line with its revised post-strike guidance. While overall sales volumes fell in the fourth quarter, results for the company's most profitable products were still decent in context, and likely delivered enough profit to satisfy Wall Street. We'll find out when GM reports fourth-quarter earnings in a few weeks. 

The raw numbers

Here's how GM's U.S. sales performance stacked up against its five largest-selling rivals:

Automaker Q4 2019 U.S. Sales Change vs. Q4 2018 Full-Year 2019 Sales Change vs. 2018
GM 735,909 (6.3%) 2,887,046 (2.3%)
Ford Motor 601,862 (2.2%) 2,422,698 (3.5%)
Toyota Motor 604,017 0.3% 2,383,349 (1.8%)
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles 542,519 (2%) 2,203,663 (1%)
Honda Motor 401,961 1% 1,608,170 0.2%
Nissan Motor 301,291 (18.4%) 1,345,681 (9.9%)

Data sources: The automakers. 

And here's how each of GM's brands fared:

Brand  Change vs. Q4 2018 Change vs. FY 2018
Buick (4.3%) 0%
Cadillac (2.2%) 1%
Chevrolet (6.1%) (3.8%)
GMC (8.5%) 1.5%

Data source: General Motors. Percentage changes are for U.S. sales over the time periods shown.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.