published Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Chilly weather stalls February auto sales; Passat sales down 19 percent

A car salesman at a car dealer digs out cars covered in snow at a dealership in Indianapolis.
A car salesman at a car dealer digs out cars covered in snow at a dealership in Indianapolis.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“February was an expectedly modest month with the wind down of outgoing models and the fewest number of selling days,” said Mark McNabb, chief operating officer of Volkswagen of America. “Nonetheless, we are pleased to see our core vehicles and TDI Clean Diesels continue to show strength in the market.”

VW said it sold 1,696 of the diesel-powered Passat TDI models last month.

So far in 2014, Passat sales have totaled 13,213, or 19.4 percent less than in the start of 2013.

The fuel-efficient Passat is not as appealing with gas prices not increasing as much as in the past. The best selling vehicles in February were small sport-utility vehicles and four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles, which of autos best matched to the severe winter conditions in much of the nation, automakers said.

GM said its U.S. sales fell 1 percent to 222,104 vehicles last month compared with February a year earlier.

“Weather continued to impact the industry in February, but GM sales started to thaw during the Winter Olympic Games as our brand and marketing messages took hold,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. sales chief.

“Despite a slower start to 2014 than most people expected, we look forward to a very successful year, backed by plenty of new products and what should be the strongest GDP growth since the end of the recession,” McNeil said.

Ford sales fell 6 percent to 183,947 vehicles in February.

Sales to fleet customers — rental car companies, commercial users and government agencies — plunged 10 percent as winter weather delayed a portion of the orders. Those sales are expected to rebound this month, the car company said.

“Sales surged in the final week, providing us momentum after a slow start to the month,” said John Felice, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service.

Autos sold well in the regions not impeded by the weather issues, Felice said. That foreshadows “a solid March,” he said.

Chrysler, which has a high percentage of truck and SUV models, did the best of the domestic auto companies.

Chrysler sales rose 11 percent to 154,866 vehicles, the company’s best February sales since 2007.

Toyota Motor Corp. sales fell 4 percent 159,284 vehicles compared to the same month a year earlier.

“February auto sales emerged from a chill in the second half of the month, poising the industry for a strong March,” said Bill Fay, Toyota’s division group vice president and general manager. “For Toyota, strong truck sales were a highlight this month, with RAV4 and Highlander posting best-ever February results.”

Nissan’s sales also rose, up nearly 16 percent to 115,360 vehicles. Big discounts and incentives contributed to Nissan’s gain. The average sales price for its vehicles last month fell 2 percent from January to $27,906, according to auto price information company Kelley Blue Book. That was the largest decrease of any automaker, Kelley reported.

Sales of the Volkswagen brand fell 13.8 percent to 27,112 vehicles.

“February was another turbulent month for automakers, with companies like Chrysler and Nissan reporting strong sales growth while most suffered losses due to the continued cold weather,” Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

“Most of the factors that have driven auto sales over the past 12 months are still in place,” Brauer said, “but if consumer activity doesn’t pick up in the next few weeks we’ll likely see an aggressive, industry-wide incentive program that could hurt profitability.”

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