CARS.COM — After a disappointing start to 2017, monthly auto sales for February came in short, down 1.1 percent versus February 2016 despite a boost in incentive spending and strong continued consumer confidence. As has been the pattern for months now, consumers continued to shift away from traditional passenger cars in favor of crossovers and SUVs; thank the low unemployment rate and comparably cheap gasoline for that.
With all automakers reporting, the best-selling models for this month have become clear – and it’s practically a rout for the new styles of SUVs. Pickup trucks remain strong thanks to a decent housing market, robust commercial sales and hefty incentives, with the Ford F-Series maintaining its dominance atop the charts at a healthy 8.7 percent rise in sales over February 2016, up more than 10 percent for the year so far. Chevrolet’s top Silverado pickup posted an even bigger gain: It’s up 17.1 percent year-over-year, a much better performance than its January decline. Ram’s full-size pickup came in third with a 5.3 percent monthly gain.
But after you get the pickups out of the way, you’ll find mid-size and compact passenger cars have been largely replaced by compact and mid-size SUVs and crossovers. The redesigned Nissan Rogue is the top selling passenger car for February, posting a massive 53.7 percent gain from the same period last year, edging out the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. Surprisingly, the Toyota RAV4 isn’t on the top 10 list – despite its fairly recent redo, it came in several thousand units behind the Rogue and CR-V.
Traditional cars aren’t off the list entirely, but they’re definitely struggling. Dropping sales of sedans bit Toyota and Ford this month, causing them to turn in an overall monthly decline despite stronger truck and SUV sales. Both the Toyota Camry and Corolla/Corolla iM took double-digit dives versus a year ago, and even the venerable Honda Civic struggled, dropping 2.4 percent for the month and just barely edging out the equally depressed performance of the Nissan Altima.
Right now, incentives are big on new cars and trucks as inventories remain fairly high across the industry. While those hefty incentives are helping move big pickups pretty quickly, they’re not doing much for mid-size sedans like the Ford Fusion or Toyota Camry (although they did power the Chevy Cruze to a significant 18.2 percent year-over-year sales gain this month). Economic conditions still appear to be strong as well, with good consumer confidence, strong housing starts and low unemployment helping to drive vehicle sales, but analysts are starting to wonder if the industry can come up with a third straight year of record-breaking sales in 2017 amid such a negative start.