General Motors and Ford sales were down 6.9% and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported a 1% sales drop in February compared with the same month in 2017.
For FCA, the decline could represent a leveling off for the automaker after months of declines as it spools out new products.
GM has a series of new offerings coming out soon in high-demand areas that could boost its prospects in coming months, too. Ford, as usual, saw gains with its truck sales, with the F-Series marking the best February in 18 years.
GM sold 220,905 vehicles in February compared with 237,388 the same month a year ago. Its luxury Cadillac brand had a solid month with double-digit increases for its ATS, Escalade and XTS.
That follows last month, when GM sales were up 1.3% compared with January 2017.
Across GM's brands, Buick had the best month, up 1.2%, while Chevrolet and GMC both fell, 8.8% and 8% respectively.
GM touted a $500 drop per vehicle in its incentive spending compared with an average industry drop of $64 to $65..
“Consumer confidence is at its highest level since 2000, the economy is strong, our newest products are selling very well and we have successfully managed the transition to the 2018 model year far better than most of our competitors,” Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of GM sales operations said in a news release.
The company planned to unveil on Thursday the new 2019 GMC Sierra and Sierra Denali light-duty pickups; and on March 7, Chevrolet is to unveil the new 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 4500HD and 5500HD, which are chassis cab trucks designed for commercial and small business customers. Cadillac is also planning to unveil XT4 crossover later this month.
GM's chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem said, “The impact of tax reform and tax refunds aren’t being felt fully by consumers yet. We expect consumer spending to pick up as tax cuts are reflected in paychecks.”
This February's performance for FCA followed a sales drop of 12.8% in January versus the same month in 2017.
FCA, which sold 165,903 vehicles in February, has cited a strategic drop in sales to lower-margin rental fleets as a reason for much of the decline, although a string of new and refreshed products rolling out, such as the new 2018 Jeep Wrangler, could begin to shift the trajectory.
FCA's fleet sales for the month fell by 3% compared with February 2017, with fleet accounting for 26% of total sales.
The major bright spot for FCA was Jeep, with sales up 12%.
Across its other brands, FCA's sales were mostly down, with Chrysler off 3%, Dodge down 8% and Ram dropping 14%. Fiat was down 42%, but its volumes were low at 1,241 vehicles. On the flip side, Alfa Romeo passed the Fiat brand in February, selling 1,568 vehicles, representing a 254% hike from February 2017.
Bucking a declining trend in the passenger car market, the Dodge Charger saw a 9% increase for the month.
That would appear to reinforce something Tim Kuniskis, who now leads Alfa Romeo and Maserati but used to oversee FCA's passenger car brands in North America, recently told the Free Press. He said that cars which stand out, rather than "vanilla A-to-B commoditized sedans," continue to sell.
Ford's February sales followed a down January, too, when the Dearborn automaker's sales dropped 6.6% compared with the same month in 2017.
Ford, which sold 194,132 vehicles in February, has acknowledged demand exceeds production of its new Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition. Factory workers are running the Kentucky Truck Plant extra shifts to get the vehicles built and shipped.
"Our all-new Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator are moving fast, as we work to increase our output to keep up," said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service.
Retail sales for the Lincoln Navigator gained 60% in February with customer orders outpacing supply. And overall transaction prices for Lincoln have grown $4,600 over last year.
Ford's fleet sales for the month fell by 3.8% to 71,059 vehicles from February 2017, with fleet accounting for 36.6% of total sales.
The major bright spot for Ford is the spike in transaction prices against the industry, with $36,200 versus $32,200.
LaNeve, in a conference call Thursday, said Ford's transaction pricing represents a $2,100 increase over last year. "
Our transaction pricing continues to benefit from a high series mix of F-Series (and) increasing demand for SuperCrew trucks."
The F-Series saw movement of 68,243 trucks in February, the 10th consecutive month of gains. The all-new Expedition saw a a 41.4% jump in sales. The new Ford EcoSport saw sales of 2,300 SUVs for February, with dealers not yet at capacity. And the Ford Fusion grew 1.3% to 16,721 vehicles sold.
Overall sales of Ford and Lincoln products dipped in February. Order for the Police Interceptor Utility grew 8 percent from the previous month to 2,654 vehicles. The new Transit Connect is seeing steady sales of 2,101 and 2,102 for the first two months of 2018.
Ford executives have cautioned investors to keep expectations modest in the first half of the year, as new products get delivered to dealerships.
The Japanese automaker posted a surprisingly solid month with total sales of 182,195 vehicles.
The company sold more crossovers, SUVs and pickups in February than ever before, rising 10.5%. Passenger car sales fell 3.1% despite a strong performance for the company's redesigned Camry, which increased 12.2% to 30,865 vehicles.
Overall, the Toyota brand increased 4.4%, and the Lexus luxury lineup increased 5.1%.
Nissan sold 129,930 vehicles overall in February. That included a 4% decline for the company's namesake brand and a 6.7% decline for its Infiniti luxury lineup.
For the Japanese automaker, car sales are going one way and everything else is going the other direction.
Sales of passenger cars plunged 15.1%. But sales of crossovers, SUVs and pickups increased 5.6%.
The Rogue crossover continued its hot streak, with sales up 15% to 38,119.
The company's pickup trucks enjoyed a solid month. The full-size Titan was up 25.9% to 3,761 units, while the mid-size Frontier rose 68.8% to 7,992.
The Japanese automaker sold 115,557 vehicles for the month.
The company's namesake Honda brand declined 5.6%, while its luxury Acura lineup rose 1%.
Sales of passenger cars fell 6.9% as the company's typically stalwart Accord fell 15.8% and the Civic declined 4.5%.
The Pilot SUV made up some of the difference, rising 48.9% to 12,056.
The VW brand posted a 6% sales increase to 26,660 vehicles. The company's Audi luxury lineup surged 12.4% as the Q5 crossover soared 36% to 4,469 vehicles. The Porsche brand jumped 20.5%.
The Japanese automotive brand's momentum continued with overall sales of 47,249 vehicles, marking its best-ever February.
The Outback was Subaru's best seller for the month, rising 4% to 14,021 vehicles. But the company's passenger cars struggled.
February is traditionally one of the slowest months for auto sales, but this year, that slowness came in the midst of a declining, although still healthy, market.
Consumers, however, continue to reward automakers with purchases of more profitable trucks and SUVs at the expense of passenger cars, a trend that has been playing out for some time.
Dave Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific, echoed that sentiment.
"SUVs and crossovers are flying off of lots, even with parts of the country getting hit hard by cold and snow early in the month. If there was ever any doubt that crossovers were just a trend, it's safe to say they are here for good," Sullivan said.
Despite down sales numbers among some automakers, incentive spending might have been expected to increase across the board.
But Ford's LaNeve touted a more disciplined industry, which he indicated is more willing than in the past to resist the temptation to offer incentives to boost numbers.
“In February, overall Incentive spend for the industry was down $65 year over year, and was down $50 sequentially to January. This is really a change from what we saw most of last year and in fact what we saw most of the last three years when year over year changes in incentive spend were up on average $300 to $400 consistently during that entire time frame,” LaNeve said.
Analysts with Cox Automotive, however, noted that incentive spending increased later in the month as automakers worked to improve sales, which might have been down more than expected.
Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader, said that automakers are using incentives "because the pie is shrinking," but that incentives have not gotten out of line because average transaction prices are increasing.
Analysts noted that interest rates on new vehicle loans are growing, and have reached what appears to be an eight-year high. The annual percentage rate on new financed vehicles averaged 5.2% in February, compared to 4.9% in 2017 and 4.4% five years ago, according to Edmunds.
Contact Eric D. Lawrence: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence.