Jul. 08 2019 — U.S. car and light truck sales fell 1.9% year over year in June, Panjiva analysis of official figures shows. That marked a return to the declines seen in every month so far in 2019 except for May’s 0.1% improvement. Foreign vehicles bore the brunt of the drop with a 7.4% slide repeating the 7.3% reduction seen in the previous three months. The situation is worst for foreign light truck sales which fell 13.2% in June, an acceleration from 8.5% in the prior three months.
Chart segments U.S. auto-sales by origin and type on a monthly and three-month average basis. Calculations based on Bureau of Economic Analysis figures. Source: Panjiva
Domestically produced car sales remain lackluster with a 12.0% drop in June, though a 5.2% rise in foreign light truck sales meant domestic sales outperformed foreign once again. That’s unlikely to change the Trump administration’s plans to apply tariffs on automotive imports under the section 232 review process.
As outlined in Panjiva’s research of Jul. 3 a decision is due by November from the President as to whether to apply tariffs – it will likely run until the last minute.
In large part though the section 232 tariff threat is being used to leverage trade negotiations with the European and Japan. Most of the major importers have taken a business-as-usual approach however. Imports from Japan increased by 2.5% year over year in May, Panjiva data shows, while preliminary seaborne data indicates they were unchanged in June, resulting in a 2.7% rise for the 2Q overall. Shipments from Germany meanwhile fell 17.5% in May and by 11.0% for the 2Q overall.
Internationally though the outlier has been shipments from South Korea with a 5.2% rise in May and a 26.7% jump in 2Q overall after a surge in June in seaborne shipments of 53.2%. The latter includes: a 55.0% surge in shipments by weight by General Motors; a 25.0% increase for Hyundai and; a 14.0% rise in shipments by Kia.
One reason for the section 232 case is to build and maintain U.S. dominance in future propulsion systems, including electric vehicles. In that regard the U.S. runs a trade surplus with exports in the 12 months to May 31 reaching $5.08 billion, accounted for principally by Tesla.
Progress has been somewhat rocky though – while total U.S. EV exports in May climbed 38.8% year over year that included a 40.7% slump in shipments to China because of tariffs offset by a 5.1x surge in shipments to Europe. The record $588 million of exports to Europe was likely due to the imminent launch of the Tesla Model 3 in the EU.
U.S. imports of electric vehicles meanwhile were a more modest $1.72 billion in the past 12 months after a 110% increase, mostly in shipments from Germany including BMW’s i-series. Imports from Japan – which represented 57.4% of the total – dropped 33.6% year over year. Meanwhile those from South Korea surged to a record $155 million in May, possibly due to the launch of sales of Hyundai’s Kona and Kia’s eNiro.