On a seasonally adjusted basis, U.S. light vehicle sales remained deeply depressed in December. But at least things don’t seem to be any worse than they had been the previous month.
U.S. light vehicle sales usually get a lift in December, and 2008 was no exception. Sales of cars (excluding SUVs) manufactured in North America were 22.7% higher in December than in November, which is even a little stronger than the usual seasonal increase. But it was a modest bump up from a frighteningly low level, with November 2008 39.9% below November 2007 levels, and December 2008 still down 33.9% from December 2007.
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Domestically manufactured light trucks (which includes the SUV category) also saw a bump up in December, though this could not be said to be any bigger than the usual December upswing. The same is true of imported cars and trucks.
Overall, in the fall of 2008 we saw a big decline in all categories– cars and SUVs, imports and domestics. That is very different from the problems last spring and summer, when SUVs were clobbered, but domestic cars were not hit too badly and sales of imported cars were actually up slightly. That difference is one of the reasons that I have characterized the problems facing the auto sector in the fall of 2008 as very different from what happened in the spring and summer. In early 2008, the primary problem for U.S. auto manufacturers was the sharp hike in gasoline prices, which explains the collapse of sales of SUVs at the same time that imports of smaller cars were on the way up.
By contrast, the current problems for the auto sector resulted from the broad collapse in overall consumer spending. With the aggregate picture as bleak as it is, consumers seem reluctant to buy any kind of car, regardless of the price of gasoline.