Today's Economic Indicator: January Auto Sales
To me, one of the most important barometers of what sort of shape the economy is in right now is sales of big ticket items like new vehicles. Today automakers will publish their sales totals for January 2009. A few days ago, the automotive Web site Edmunds.com forecast that U.S. light vehicle sales for January were down 30% versus the same period a year ago and off 18% from the level reported in December (see article: Edmunds.Com Predicts January Sales Will Remain Flat, But Demand May Be Building.
I personally believe that the January sales were worse than that. I'm looking for a drop in the mid-30% range at least. The hardest hit will likely be luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz...and of course the mess that is Chrysler. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Chrysler's U.S. sales were down over 50% AGAIN this month. Even traditional titans like Toyota likely saw soft sales in January.
The only brand that seems to be immune to the massive slowdown in light vehicle sales thus far is Subaru (a subsidiary of Fuji Heavy Industries and partially owned by Toyota - 16.7%). Consumers seem to be flocking to the company, seeing its AWD vehicles as a tremendous value for the money.
It will be interesting to see exactly what January was like. I plan on updating the comments section of this blog post throughout the day with manufacturers' press releases when I see them if I can find the time.
Who thankfully has no position in any automaker