Area sales drop 0.8% in third quarter, down 3.1% through September

Washington area auto sales continued their yearlong slide downward in the third quarter, dropping 0.8 percent in the quarter and 3.1 percent year-to-date through September. That does show improvement from the first half of 2018, when sales fell by 4.4 percent. Sales figures are from the latest R.L. Polk report, commissioned by WANADA.

Nationally in the third quarter, sales edged up 0.5 percent. (U.S. sales data are from Automotive News.) One possible reason for the discrepancy is that U.S. new vehicle sales fell sharply during the Great Recession of 2007-09 and had a longer climb up than the Washington area. The vehicle sales market here has traditionally missed the big highs and steep lows of the rest of the country because of its more stable economy, based on the federal workforce. It’s possible that the wild volatility of the political scene and the reported low morale of federal employees have dampened their enthusiasm here for making a large purchase like a new vehicle.

Area sales for the third quarter totaled 222,470 in metro Washington, with the most sales in August (28,380), followed by September (26,733) and July (26,212).

The big news in the Washington area is that trucks continue to increase their share of sales in what historically has been a car-heavy market. That’s changing even on the region’s traffic-choked roadways, as cheap gasoline entices consumers to gravitate toward bigger vehicles.

Truck sales here rose 3.9 percent in the third quarter and a robust 8 percent through September. Light trucks – which include crossovers and SUVs – made up 60.3 percent of new-vehicle sales through September, up from 56.2 percent last year. Passenger car sales in our region fell 12 percent through September.

Washington area consumer demand for imports continues, with non-Detroit Three vehicles making up 72.7 percent of sales through September, the same as a year ago.

For the complete copy of the WANADA Area Report on third quarter Washington area new vehicle sales, click here and log in with your user name and password.

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