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Economy in Brief

February U.S. Light Vehicle Sales Lower Still
by Tom Moeller March 3, 2009

What can be said about the decline in U.S. vehicle sales that hasn't already been noted? It's been picking up momentum recently. It's been to the lowest level since 1982. It's been broad-based across manufacturers and product type. U.S. unit sales of light vehicles fell a surprising 4.7% m/m to 9.12M (SAAR) from 9.57M during January. Sales of 9.6M had been expected for February. The latest figure was the lowest since June of 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 increased downward momentum portion of the story is that the February decline pulled the comparison versus a year ago to -40 6% which was its worst since the data became available in the late 1960s.

Sales of domestically-made light vehicles again were particularly hard hit. They posted a 6.8% month-to-month decline from January to 6.29 million units. That decline came on the heels of January's 12.2% drop. The level is now 45.5% below February 2008. Sales of domestically made light trucks led last month's downdraft with a 13.0% decline to 3.4M units. That was countered to an extent by a 1.7% m/m rise in domestic auto sales, but February's increase followed a 20.8% January decline and they still were off by almost one-half from February 2008.

Imported light vehicle sales again outperformed the domestics last month as they posted a modest increase after January's 7.6% increase. Nevertheless, sales fell 25.9% year-to-year but the decline still is far less than for U.S. made vehicles. Sales of imported light trucks were the strongest as they increased 3.1% from January. The increase enabled sales of imported light trucks to grab 24.4% of the market; a record and more than double the share of ten years earlier. Sales of imported autos slipped 1.1% (-28.1% y/y) from January after that month's 8.5% rise.

Import's share of the U.S. light vehicle market jumped to a record 31.1% in February, up almost five 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.)

The U.S. vehicle sales figures can be found in Haver's USECON database.

Light Vehicle Sales (SAAR, Mil. Units) February January December Feb.'09 / Feb.'08 2008 2007 2006
Total 9.12 9.57 10.31 -40.6% 13.17 16.16 16.54
  Autos 4.63 4.60 5.21 -37.2 6.71 7.58 7.77
    Domestic 2.89 2.84 3.59 -41.7 4.42 5.07 5.31
    Imported 1.74 1.76 1.62 -28.1 2.29 2.52 2.45
  Light Trucks 4.50 4.97 5.10 -43.7 6.47 8.60 8.78
    Domestic 3.40 3.91 4.10 -48.3 5.29 7.10 7.42
    Imported 1.10 1.06 1.00 -22.2 1.18 1.47 1.37
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