Auto sales can’t thaw through this winter freeze.
Sales were just under what they were this time last year, and underperformed for what’s expected to be the biggest year for cars this decade.
About 1.2 million cars were sold to Americans in February, automakers estimate, which is slightly below expectations.
The annualized sale rate for the month finished at 15.34 million, just under the 15.4 million that analysts anticipated for last month – making it the third consecutive month sales fell below projections.
Auto sales stayed relatively flat compared to last year, when 1,189,587 cars rolled off lots.
Automakers still did better than last month, however, when just more than a million cars were sold. Economists blamed that dip on frigid temperatures in the Midwest and East Coast, which kept consumers indoors and out of showrooms.
Analysts expect total sales for 2014 to be around 16 million – the highest number since 2007. Consumers are out in the market, one economist said, and a second-half of February increase points to an uptick for the next few months.
“It’s a sign that the consumer’s okay,” said Bloomberg analyst Kevin Tynan, adding its an “indication that the consumer is out there and wants to buy cars.
Nissan and Chrysler won February with significant annual increases.
Chrysler’s 11-percent increase was thanks to a huge demand for the Jeep brand, which is up 47 percent from February 2013. The Cherokee and Grand Cherokee brands won its own division with 24,486 vehicles sold.
The company sold 154,866 in total – its best February in seven years – backed by the Jeep sales and Ram tracks. Chrysler sales head, Reid Bigland, pointed to consumers’ need for SUVs and trucks in harsh weather.
Ram, Chrysler’s truck and van brand, was up 26 percent. Fiat only made a 5-percent gain thanks to its new 500L model.
On it’s weaker side, the Chrysler brand only grew 1 percent, and Dodge sales were a disappointing minus-11 percent.
Nissan is up 16 percent after the brand sold 115,360 cars, most of which came from the flagship brand. It’s Infiniti brand sold 9,729, a 6.5-percent uptick from last year.
But it wasn’t all cheers in Detroit.
General Motors sold 222,104 in the United States this February, down one percent from this time last year. The number is a 30-percent jump from last month, however, when overall sales were poor.
Kurt McNeill, the company’s vice president of sales, blamed the drop on cold temperatures throughout the Midwest and east coast. General Motors saw an upswing, he said, after an Olympic marketing campaign. This should boost for the rest of the year.
“Despite a slower start to 2014 than most people expected,” he said. “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.”
Ford lagged behind as well, selling only 183,947 cars in retail – a 6-percent drop from February 2013. The company saw an uptick in truck sales, and its Lincoln brand is up 36 percent.
Entry-level luxury cars are up because of low interest rates, said Bloomberg Senior Analyst Kevin Tynan. As a result, he said there will be more leases in the next year – indicating consumers are looking for new luxury vehicles.
“You might see pricing go down,” he said, “but the volume is still going to be there.”
Toyota is down 4 percent, selling just 159,284 cars for the month. While most of the company’s base totals were down, the Corolla was sold 300 more models than this time last year.
How much of an effect the winter on overall consumer behavior might take a bit, however.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen told the Senate last week it was too soon to predict exactly how much the weather would impact spending.
A Fed survey released Wednesday, however, blamed the slowing economy and stalled spending on the weather.