Across the industry, deliveries were projected to increase thanks, in part, to better inventory levels.
The first batch of January car sales results have shown healthy gains for brands like Hyundai and Kia, but the news was less rosy for the best-selling automaker on the planet, Toyota. As reported by Automotive News, deliveries of light vehicles are projected to increase by between 2.4% and 6.5%, and the positive start to the new year for many brands supports these estimates.
In general, better inventory levels and higher fleet volume contributed to the improved sales figures. A drop in EV prices from several prominent automakers, led by Tesla, has also spurred greater demand. For the Korean brands, the news is very positive. Both Hyundai and Kia posted record-breaking sales for January.
Hyundai Motor America moved 52,001 units last month (including 48,247 retail units), up 9% over January 2022. Multiple model-specific January sales records were achieved, including for the Elantra Hybrid (+574%), Kona EV (+334%), and Kona N (+49%). This was also the best-ever retail and total sales month for the fun Elantra N.
"Achieving year-over-year growth in retail and total sales, as well as a record-breaking January, highlights the company's commitment to delivering a great product lineup," said CEO of Hyundai Motor America, Randy Parker.
Kia's record-breaking January represented its sixth consecutive monthly record, with 51,983 cars sold (a mere 18 cars behind Hyundai), a 22.3% increase year-over-year. Five Kias achieved best-ever January sales, those being the Niro, Sportage, Telluride, Carnival, and Forte.
Kia and Hyundai remain closely matched in multiple segments. For example, Kia sold 1,110 EV6s in January and Hyundai moved 1,548 Ioniq 5s; these two EVs share a platform. In the mid-size three-row SUV segment, Kia took the lead with 7,582 Tellurides sold, while Hyundai sold 6,684 Palisades.
Also seeing an upward swing in sales were Honda (snapping a 17-month losing streak), Subaru (which saw its sixth consecutive monthly gain), Genesis, and Mazda (a fourth consecutive monthly gain).
Honda, which has struggled with low stockpiles for months, managed to double on-hand inventory compared to last year. Honda brand sales topped 75,000 units, an increase of 10%. The CR-V Hybrid found 9,551 homes, an all-time monthly record for this model and a result that bodes well for the upcoming Civic Hybrid. Honda's luxury arm, Acura, also had good news to report. For the fourth straight month, the Acura Integra moved over 2,000 units and the MDX set its own January sales record at 4,455 units.
Mazda reported 22,967 vehicle sales last month, up by 9% over January 2022. Both the CX-30 (5,065) and CX-9 (3,170) had their best-ever January sales.
Subaru saw a more modest 0.5% uptick in sales compared to January 2022, with 44,373 vehicles sold last month. At 12,706 units, the Crosstrek was the brand's best-selling model and also had its best January sales ever. The electric Solterra, meanwhile, moved 499 units.
"We are off to a winning start in 2023 following a season of strong holiday car-buying," said Jeff Walters, Senior Vice President of Sales at Subaru.
But unlike its Japanese rivals, Toyota didn't have a great start to 2023. Stymied by some of the lowest inventory levels in the industry, Toyota deliveries were down by 17% last month, although it still sold 134,392 cars. Hot-selling models like the Camry, RAV4, Highlander, Corolla, and 4Runner all saw declines of 15% or more.
Despite rising sales overall, there are still hurdles for new-car shoppers to overcome early this year. "While positive developments regarding mildly retreating vehicle prices and rising pockets of inventory bode well, interest rates remain high and economic headwinds persist," said Chris Hopson, principal analyst at S&P Global Mobility.
At an estimated $46,437, the average transaction price of a new vehicle in January 2023 is 4.2% higher than in January 2022. This would be a decline over the record $47,362 average prices seen in December, though.
Another analyst said that while rising prices remain a concern, improving inventory has slowed the pace of those increases, and markups have also declined.
While the effect of the chip crisis continues to be felt to varying degrees depending on the automaker, the situation isn't as dire as it was a year or two ago. Late last year, both Ford and GM said they were close to clearing chip shortage backlogs which affected many popular models, some of which were delivered but missing key features. Supply issues continue to affect the likes of Nissan, too, which is still unable to meet demand for its Ariya EV.
Ford and Volvo are set to release January sales figures imminently, although several automakers only do so quarterly.
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