2014's stars, laggards at halfway mark

Jeep Cherokee: Heating up the SUV sales chart with 2014 U.S. deliveries of 80,432 through June.

DETROIT -- If it was a new compact or premium crossover or a large or mid-sized SUV, chances are it lit up the U.S. sales chart in the first half of the year. If it was a minicar or a mid-sized or large sedan, it probably lost some luster.

Light trucks were hot in the first half of 2014, driving up overall new-vehicle sales 4 percent through June. U.S. sales of light trucks increased 9 percent through June, while car deliveries were flat.

SUVs, vans, crossovers and subcompact cars were the fastest growing segments through the first half of the year, with SUV demand up 22 percent and van deliveries rising 9 percent.

Sales in the crossover segment jumped 8 percent, led by big gains in compact and premium models.

In many cases, the boom in crossover demand is coming at the expense of cars.

“These larger vehicles are able to get the fuel economy of smaller cars … the list of reasons for rejection is becoming smaller,” said AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan. “They’re right in the sweet spot of fuel economy, cargo capacity and passenger space.”

Forester rises 47%

The 13 percent increase in compact crossover deliveries through June was driven by a big increase for the redesigned Subaru Forester, up 47 percent. Significant growth from the Acura MDX and BMW X3 accounted for the 13 increase in premium crossover deliveries.

Sullivan said vehicles in the compact crossover segment offer the functionality of a hatchback without looking too much like one.

“It’s a good way to disguise the hatchback in a way Americans like to buy them,” he said.

Demand for full-sized pickups has cooled, rising just 4 percent through the halfway point this year, compared with a 17 percent jump in 2013.

Some of the decrease in full-sized pickup momentum is a result of Ford’s plan to scale back on the current F series in preparation for the new model, which features an aluminum body. F-series sales fell 1 percent through June.

Ford’s share of the pickup segment is trending around 11.5 percent in June, compared with 12 percent in the same period in 2013, John Felice, Ford’s vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, told reporters today.

Chevrolet Silverado sales were down 1 percent through June. General Motors is building and selling more high-cost Silverados to generate more revenue on smaller volumes as it prepares for the upcoming launch of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon compact pickups, Sullivan said.

Although the compact crossover segment is growing more quickly, Sullivan said the full-sized pickup market remains robust and profit-rich because of high transaction prices and the improvement in fuel economy capabilities on new models.

GMC Sierra sales were up 6 percent through June while Dodge Ram deliveries jumped 20 percent.

The mid-sized SUV segment also was hot, posting a huge increase of 95 percent after the addition of the high-volume Jeep Cherokee. Despite initial bashing from critics for its front-end styling, the Cherokee quickly grabbed 4 percent of the mid-sized SUV market.

“It has some fresh styling, and it’s the first new Jeep in a while,” LMC Automotive analyst Jeff Schuster said. “It hit the market at the right time … the Cherokee is a brand new vehicle for an iconic brand in a segment that’s hot.”

Van segment gains

After remaining flat in 2013, the van segment’s 9 percent increase in deliveries through June was led by a 13 percent increase in deliveries of full-sized vans. The GMC Savana posted the most significant growth among large vans with a 98 percent increase through June.

The luxury car segment also continued to advance, up 6 percent through June. Compact luxury cars led the way in growth in the segment, posting an 8 percent increase with the biggest percentage increases coming from the Lexus IS and the Audi A3.

The Audi A3 was introduced in April and had an average transaction price between $35,000 and $36,000 in June. The A3 is aimed at entry-level luxury customers and about 25 percent of A3 buyers in April were 30 years old or younger, Audi COO Mark Del Rosso told reporters today.

“We’re seeing some move-up buyers from the general market,” he said. “Customers coming out of Hondas, Toyotas, etc., that are looking for their first premium car.”

Mid-sized disappointment

Sales in the mid-sized car segment continued to cool, falling 3 percent through June. The segment had a disappointing year in 2013, with volumes increasing by only 1 percent after jumping 22 percent in 2012.

The minicar segment has also taken a big hit this year, with volume off 11 percent through June after a 7 percent increase in 2013. Through June, the Mini Cooper S took a big hit in the segment, down 38 percent. The Fiat 500 also took a big dip, down 14 percent.

Large cars also posted a disappointing first half, with deliveries down 6 percent through June after a 5 percent increase in 2013. The Kia Cadenza, Chevrolet Caprice and Buick LaCrosse were the only models to post first-half increases in the segment. The Hyundai Azera posted the sharpest decline, down 28 percent through June.

Gabe Nelson contributed to this report.

You can reach Nora Naughton at nnaughton@crain.com -- Follow Nora on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NoraNaughton

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