No one likes uncertainty, especially the auto industry which has a tough time matching production volumes with an unsettled market. We are heading into one of those phases when the difference between costly incentives or holding margins can be just a few too many or too few vehicles on the market. February sales numbers offered up a mixed bag with makes that pushed incentives particularly on trucks, doing well, while those looking to dial back on volume and deals for slow moving sedans took a hit in the marketplace.

Both GM and Nissan posted respective gains of 4.2 percent and 3.7 percent, followed by Honda, which was up 2.3 percent, largely on the success of its Pilot SUV and Ridgeline pickup. Ford, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler all saw their sales drop. FCA took the biggest hit, falling 10 percent. That marked its sixth monthly decline in sales, according to Automotive News. While Ram trucks were up 4 percent, FCA suffered an uncharacteristic 15 percent decline in Jeep sales, as well as a 28-percent plunge at Chrysler and 7 percent at Dodge. The drops at Chrysler and Dodge can be attributed in part to the closeout of the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan and the compact Dodge Dart.

But FCA wasn’t the only maker affected by the slow car sales. Ford had a 2.3-percent decline while Toyota fell 7.2 percent, 5.4 percent attributable to the Toyota brand, while Lexus was down 21 percent. Meanwhile, Volkswagen continues its recovery from the diesel emissions cheating scandal seeing a 13 percent increase in sales—part of which may be fueled by the diesel buyback program underway. Audi also had a strong month rising some 17 percent.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

GM ramps up truck deals

GM has significantly increased incentives on its full-size pickups in order to maintain volume and fend off rivals like Ford and Ram. According to Bloomberg, discounts are averaging nearly $7,000 for Chevrolet Silverado and just over $5,300 for GMC Sierra, according to J.D. Power data obtained by the news service. These higher averages represent respective 56 and 82 percent year-over-year increases in incentives at the two brands. The data showed that at the same time, both Ford and Ram have lowered the amount of rebates and discounts offered consumers.

As a result, GM is spending 26 percent more on incentives for the Silverado than Ram is for its 1500 pickup and 85 percent more than Ford for the F-150. The February Truck Month sales promotion by GM saw discounts of up to 25 percent on the Sierra and as much as $11,185 on the Silverado. These spiffs presumably are fueled in part by a 4.3 percent decline in Silverado and 1.1 percent drop in Sierra sales last year.

“We wanted to get our fair share in the truck market,” Jim Cain, a GM spokesman told Bloomberg. “The kind of incentives we offer in Truck Month are not the kind of spending we do on a regular basis.”

Dealer sees inventory grow

While the days’ supply for the industry grew at the start of the year, typically import franchises tend to have smaller stocks on hand. The make with the tightest stock has been Subaru which usually runs around a 26 days’ supply, which represents the number of days it would take to sell down all the vehicles on hand. However, one New Jersey Honda dealer reports seeing his inventories climb to the point that he has had to rent extra space, the first time in 37 years of doing business.

Larry Kull, who owns a Honda dealership in Marlton, N.J., told Bloomberg that he has about 60 days’ supply up, from his normal inventory of 45 days. “The sales are good,” he told the news service, adding, “I just have more product on the ground than I’ve had before.”

The growing supply even among popular brands signals that either production schedules will have to be cut, or more incentives are on the way if sales don’t pick up. It is also a reflection in the disparity between the public’s desire for trucks, SUVs and crossovers at the expense of traditional passenger cars. Like GM’s Truck Month promotion to lift pickup sales, Nissan also launched an aggressive rebate program on its Altima sedan, offering up to as much as $5,050 off 2017 models. Kelley Blue Book data indicates that it took dealers an average of 75 days to sell a car last month, up 7 days from a year earlier.

Also: Class of 2018 – New Cars Ready to Roll

Average transaction prices still climbing

While year-over-year transaction prices continue to climb -- up 2.3 percent or $757 in February to hit $34,352 -- the figure has actually dropped by 0.9 percent or $328 from January to February. “New car transaction prices continued to rise in February climbing more than 2 percent year-over-year,” said Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “Once again, prices are up due to the mix of sales skewing more toward SUVs and away from cars, as keeping the sales mix of SUVs-to-cars steady from last February would have resulted in flat transaction prices. Even though sales now appear to be slowing down in the industry, the boom in utility vehicle is managing to boost profits for many automakers.”

Ford led the increases in average transaction prices (ATP), seeing them climb 6 percent on strong F-Series pickup sales. Fusion has also seen its average price go up by a similar percentage, thanks to the introduction of the higher priced 325-horsepower Sport trim.  Lincoln saw its ATP go up with the introduction of the Continental, which is selling on average for $55,000.

Hyundai, which has been offering strong incentives on Veloster and Sonata and spun off its higher priced Genesis models as a separate luxury division, saw ATP erode by 6 percent. Electric vehicles continue to be difficult to sell, with average prices dropping 11.3 percent in February to $34,026 from $38,339.

The rundown

Check out the This Week in Car Buying Podcasthere.

Hyundai has introduced the first dedicated lineup of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. We drive two of them in this 2017 Hyundai Ioniq First Review.

Jeep is looking to reposition its Compass and Patriot twins with just a single model in the form of the all-new 2017 Jeep Compass. We get behind the wheel with another First Review.

If absolute performance is your thing, then spend some time with this First Look at the high-powered 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE, the ultimate track day pony car.

In the market for a new car? Explore these useful tips on how to get the best deal:

Kelley Blue Book’s Complete Guide to Incentives

All you need to know about leasing

Which dealer services are right for you?

What to look for in your next economy car

Ten insider tips for new car buying


New Car Spotlight


Free Dealer Price Quote

Get the best price and be more prepared with your free, no-obligation price quote