Winter dragged on in February and car sales for many automakers remained in hibernation, at least for the first half of the month. Shoppers shunned popular sedans like the Honda Accord (down 12.1 percent), Ford Fusion (down 14.3 percent), Toyota Camry (down 7.3 percent) and Hyundai Sonata (down 30.1 percent). They did buy more Chevrolet Malibus and Nissan Altimas, however, placing the Altima atop the car-only pile for February, a roost it last held in March 2013.
That wasn't the only changing of the guard. Shoppers gravitated toward the Chevrolet Cruze last month (up 21.7 percent versus a weak February 2013) but drifted from the Honda Civic (down 5 percent versus an also-weak February 2013); the Civic hasn't been absent from the top 10 best-sellers list since September 2012.
As we expected, snow-ready cars had their day. We reported Feb. 20 that sales for all-wheel-drive vehicles were up some 20 percent in the first part of the year. Indeed, shoppers preferred off-road brands: Land Rover gained 3 percent and Subaru climbed 24 percent. Jeep saw the highest gains, with sales up 47.4 percent. Shoppers bought more Jeep Cherokees, Grand Cherokees and Wranglers than 16 other nameplates across Fiat Chrysler's five U.S. brands. Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales, said February's harsh weather across most of the country "has been ideally suited" for the brand, which had the best February in its 73-year existence.
Pickup truck sales stayed flat. Ram shoppers found higher purchase incentives versus February 2013, and sales gained 25.8 percent. GM's Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, meanwhile, fell a combined 8.9 percent. Year-over-year incentives are stable on both nameplates, which have redesigned 1500 versions for 2014, but dealer inventory is through the roof for the Silverado — 151 days versus the industry's 88-day average, according to Automotive News. That could prompt salespeople to cut better deals to move inventory in March.
With the seven largest automakers reporting figures, February 2014 sales are down 0.1 percent. Chrysler and Nissan were the only automakers to report increases.
Hyundai dropped 6.3 percent, which sales chief Brad Pradzinski blamed on "awful weather." GM slid 1 percent, which U.S. sales operations head Kurt McNeil blamed on the weather even as he noted an uptick late in the month. Toyota fell 4.3 percent, but general manager Bill Fay said in a company statement that sales "emerged from a chill in the second half of the month." Ford fell 6.1 percent, but sales chief John Felice described a sales surge "in the final week of the month."
For some models, stalled sales coincided with higher inventory. The Ford Focus (down 23.5 percent) joined the Fusion among Ford's slower sellers, and Ford dealers have a glut of both cars — 97 days' supply of the Fusion and 144 of the Focus, according to Automotive News. Honda dealers, meanwhile, have a 110-day supply of Accords. Purchase incentives have stayed roughly even with year-ago levels, but that could change as Ford and Honda look to trim supply in March. Shoppers, take note.
Here are February's top 10 best-sellers:
Cars.com photo by Evan Sears