Washington area sales fell 7% in fourth quarter, 9.6% in 2017

Unlike the usual pattern of Washington area sales rates topping U.S. new-vehicle sales, last year saw lower sales for our region in the fourth quarter (down 7 percent) and lower still for the full year (down 9.6 percent). Nationally,  sales saw a more modest drop of 1.8 percent. Washington area figures are from WANADA’s Area Report based on R.L. Polk new-vehicle registration data, available by clicking on the link at the end of this article. U.S. sales are from Automotive News.


A variety of factors could have played into the area sales downturn. Although unemployment is very low in Maryland and Virginia, it is rising in DC (6.6 percent as of October 2017). A greater portion of the local economy now comes from part-time contract work, which is irregular and lacks benefits, according to a report from George Mason University. And many federal workers lost their jobs last year, or were worried they might.


All three months of the fourth quarter saw a drop in sales. October saw the biggest downturn at   -11 percent, followed by December (-7 percent) and November (-3.5 percent). The year overall logged a very respectable 305,523 total new vehicle sales for the 12 locality regions of DC, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia. December, as usual because of manufacturer incentives, was the biggest month, at 28,242, followed by November (25,224) and October (22,961).

Sales of new import vehicles in the Washington area made up 72.8 percent of total sales, up quite a bit from last year’s import share of 67.7 percent. Imports (non-Detroit 3) made up an impressive 82 percent of all area new car sales, up from 79 percent in 2016. Imports accounted for 65.6 percent of light truck sales (including SUVs) in our region. Washington area buyers have long been partial to import vehicles, but the trend appears to be accelerating.


The proportion of light trucks and SUVs (including crossovers) in total vehicle sales was just a tiny bit above last year, at 57.3 percent. That’s still about 12 percent more than two years ago, so area buyers are following the national trend to buy more passenger trucks. Even so, national light  truck sales are much higher, at 66 percent of total new-vehicle sales.


The tax cuts from last year’s tax bill might put more people in a mood to buy new vehicles this year. But the area’s middle class is being squeezed, leaving the very rich and the very poor – and the very poor don’t buy new vehicles.


For the complete WANADA Area Report on fourth quarter and total 2017 Washington area new vehicle sales, WANADA members can click here and log in with their user name and password.

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