General Motors' Sales Fall as Cadillacs Shine, Trucks Slip

General Motors said that its U.S. sales fell 6.9% from a year ago, as continued gains for GM's all-new crossover SUVs weren't enough to offset big declines in sales of its pickups and sedans.

GM had plenty of company, starting with rival Ford Motor Company, which also posted a 6.9% decline in sales. Most other major automakers' sales fell year over year as the U.S. new-car market continued to show signs of weakening after seven years of gains.

Year to date, GM's U.S. sales are down 3.2% from the same period in 2017.

How GM's U.S. sales compared with rivals'

Here are February's sales totals for the six largest-selling automakers in the U.S. market. Note that only Toyota managed a year-over-year gain, powered by strong demand for SUVs and its all-new Camry sedan.

The high and low points from GM's February sales report

The high points:

  • Cadillac sales rose 14% for the brand's first monthly U.S. sales gain since September. The XT5 crossover was up 8.8% and Escalade sales were strong, but the pleasant surprise was that three of the brand's four sedan models also posted year-over-year gains. (Only the CTS lagged, with sales down 3%.)
  • Speaking of the Escalade, sales of Cadillac's big SUV rose almost 17%. Prices rose, too: The Escalade's average transaction price (ATP) rose about $1,400 from a year ago to $82,700.
  • Sales of GM's new crossovers continued to rise. Sales of the Buick Enclave, Cadillac XT5, Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse, and GMC Acadia and Terrain were all up year over year.
  • Sales of the battery-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV rose nearly 50% from a year ago, to 1,424.
  • Signs of life for Buick's sedans: Sales of the all-new Buick Regal were more than double the year-ago sales of its predecessor, and sales of its larger sibling, the big Buick LaCrosse, rose almost 48%.
  • Year-over-year improvements in product mix driven by the strong sales of crossovers and Cadillacs helped push GM's overall ATP up by about $750 for the month.
  • GM's commercial fleet sales are up 33% year to date. That's helping to keep GM's full-size pickups afloat in the last months of their lives. (All-new versions are due in the fourth quarter.)

The low points:

  • Despite strong commercial fleet sales, overall sales of GM's full-size pickups, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, fell a combined 18.6% from a year ago. Results from rivals were mixed: Sales of FCA's Ram fell 15%, but Ford's F-Series managed a 3.5% gain. Of note: Both GM and FCA have all-new pickups on the way, but Ford's are the newest right now.
  • The small Buick Encore SUV has been a huge seller for GM over the last couple of years, but it may now be growing stale: Sales fell 12.6%.
  • Chevrolet's car models are still hurting. Sales of the Camaro, Corvette, Cruze, Impala, Malibu and Volt were all down year over year, most by double-digit percentages.

The upshot: GM's results mostly reflect industrywide trends

Looking across the industry's sales results, some trends are clear. Crossover SUVs remain hot, pickups that aren't Fords are cooling, and sedan sedan sales are very weak. There's variation within the individual market segments, of course -- but there's another trend visible within those segments: With a few exceptions (the Escalade is one), the models that are posting sales gains and getting strong ATPs are the newest, freshest ones.

Most of GM's crossovers are new in the last two years; they're selling very well at good prices. GM's pickups are in the last months of their lives, while the segment's largest player has new and refreshed models; sales are down.

On balance, it appears that GM is still having enough success to keep its profit margins healthy while it awaits those new pickups. That's good news for shareholders.

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John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.