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Economy in Brief

January U.S. Light Vehicle Sales Lowest Since 1982
by Tom Moeller February 4, 2009

Consumers' aversion to purchasing autos continued last month. U.S. sales of light vehicles fell a surprising 7.1% m/m to 9.57M (SAAR) from 10.31M during December. Sales of 10.2M had been expected for January. The latest figure was the lowest since 1982 according to the Autodata Corporation and Ward's Automotive News. (Seasonal adjustment of the figures is provided by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis). The decline pulled the comparison versus a year ago to -37.7% which was its worst since the data became available in the late 1960s.

Sales of domestically-made light vehicles were particularly hard hit as they posted a 12.2% decline from December to 6.75M units. The level is now 42.4% below that in January 2008. Sales of domestically made autos fell a hard 20.8% m/m, enough to pull the comparison versus a year earlier to -43.7%. Light truck sales fell 4.6% for the month (-41.4% y/y).

Imported light vehicle sales outperformed the domestics again last month as they posted a 7.6% increase. Moreover, while sales fell 22.8% year-to-year, the decline is roughly half that for U.S. made vehicles. Sales of imported light trucks were the strongest as they increased 6.0% from January. The increase enabled sales of imported light trucks to grab 21.4% of total market share, a record and double the share of ten years earlier. Sales of imported autos also firmed and rose 8.5% (-23.0% y/y) after two months of decline.

Higher truck sales pulled import's share of the U.S. light vehicle market to a record 29.5%, up three percentage points from the 2008 average. (Imported vehicles are those produced outside the U.S. and do not include vehicles with the nameplate of a foreign manufacturer produced within the U.S.)

Light Vehicle Sales (SAAR, Mil. Units) January December Jan. / Jan. 2008 2007 2006
Total 9.57 10.31 -37.7% 13.17 16.16 16.54
  Autos 4.60 5.21 -37.2 6.71 7.58 7.77
    Domestic 2.84 3.59 -43.7 4.42 5.07 5.31
    Imported 1.76 1.62 -23.0 2.29 2.52 2.45
  Light Trucks 4.97 5.10 -38.2 6.47 8.60 8.78
    Domestic 3.91 4.10 -41.4 5.29 7.10 7.42
    Imported 1.06 1.00 -22.6 1.18 1.47 1.37
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