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February sales weaken in major auto markets

Auto sales continued to weaken in major markets as the U.S., Europe, China and Japan reported year-over-year sales drops for February, according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis.

Automakers report drop in US sales for February

Major automakers posted declines in U.S. new vehicle sales for February, as sales of passenger cars softened during the month.

An S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis found that U.S. sales of new vehicles for the month hit a seasonally adjusted rate of 1.38 million units, down 2.3% from the February 2018 figure of 1.41 million units.

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Passenger car sales in the U.S. for February dropped 10.4% to 405,806 units on a seasonally adjusted basis, versus 452,995 units in February 2018. Sales of trucks, minivans and SUVs for the period totaled 971,897 units on a seasonally adjusted basis, up 1.54% from the 2018 figure of 957,136 units.

Industry consultants J.D. Power and LMC Automotive had predicted a decline in new vehicle sales in February.

"The year is off to its slowest start since 2014 with the industry set to post sales declines again in February," Thomas King, senior vice president of data and analytics division at J.D. Power, said in a Feb. 25 research statement.

King added: "Looking ahead to the coming months, the industry should expect to receive a slight boost with the recovery of any lost sales due to inclement weather."

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV reported a 2.3% year-over-year decline in the U.S. sales for February at 162,036 vehicles. While the company's Ram brand recorded a 24% jump in February sales to 45,542 vehicles, sales of the company's Jeep brand dropped 4% to 67,075 vehicles.

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Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. sold 172,748 vehicles in February, down 5.2% on a volume basis and a daily selling rate basis.

Rival Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. U.S. sales dropped 12% year over year in February to 114,342 vehicles, down from 129,930 units sold in the same period a year ago. Nissan group total car sales slipped 12.9% year over year to 47,920 units, while the Japanese automaker's total truck sales in the U.S. fell 11.3% to 66,422 vehicles.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. no longer report monthly sales figures.

"The overall industry is starting off slower due in part to weather, the U.S. government shutdown, and concern over tax refunds," Reid Bigland, U.S. head of sales at Fiat Chrysler said in a March 1 statement.

"We still see a strong, stable economy and anticipate any lost winter sales will be made up in the spring," Bigland said.

Edmunds' manager of industry analysis, Jeremy Acevedo, believes that record-high interest rates and rising average transaction prices are putting pressure on the auto market and keeping car shoppers at bay.

"February is shaping up to be a good barometer of the gradual sales decline we expect through 2019," Acevedo said in a Feb. 20 research statement.

European car sales extend declines

Car sales across Europe dropped in February for the sixth month in a row.

New car registrations, or sales, slid 0.9% in February to 1.15 million units, down from 1.16 million units in February 2018, according to ACEA data for the European Union and the European Free Trade Association countries of Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

The European car sales slump started in September with the introduction of the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, or WLTP. The new methodology for measuring exhaust pipe emissions tests was developed by experts from the European Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

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February sales results were mixed among the EU markets.

Germany registered a 2.7% increase in registrations in February on a year-over-year basis. The U.K. posted a 1.4% rise in sales in February, while France saw registrations surge 2.1%.

By contrast, Spain registered a decline of 8.8% in registrations, while Italy posted a 2.4% decline in sales.

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Among European Free Trade Association countries, Iceland reported a 30.9% decline in car sales, while sales in Norway rose by 9.0%.

Major auto manufacturers also reported mixed results for the month for the European Union and the European Free Trade Association region. French carmaker PSA Group registered a 0.8% increase in its sales, as sales of its Citroen brand jumped 7.2%. Sales of its Peugeot SA brand rose 0.2% year over year.

European sales at Fiat Chrysler fell 5.2%. Sales of its Fiat brand decreased 11.4% year over year, while sales of its Jeep brand jumped 35.5%.

Volkswagen AG also posted a 0.5% decline in sales as sales of its Porsche brand declined 46.4% year over year. Sales of Volkswagen's Audi brand also slid 8.1%.

However, the company's Volkswagen brand registered an increase of 4% in sales.

Volkswagen's market share in Europe's new passenger-car market increased to 24.4% during the month, as the market share of PSA Group rose to 17.3%.

They are the two largest brands in Europe by market share, according to ACEA.

Auto sales drop in China, Japan

Japan auto sales decreased from a year earlier. Sales fell to 401,377 units in February, down from 401,804 vehicles in the year-ago period, according to data from the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.

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In Japan, Toyota sold 124,085 vehicles in the month, up from 123,137 vehicles sold in February 2018. Honda Motor Co. Ltd. sold 62,776 units during the period, less than the 66,906 vehicles it sold in February 2018.

Elsewhere, China's passenger car sales fell 17.35% in February from a year earlier to 1.22 million units, due to China's movable Lunar New Year holiday, as the downward pressure on production and sales remained.

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According to data from China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, sales of sedans totaled 579,500 units, down 14.40% year over year, while sales of sports-utility vehicles reached 530,200 units, down 18.60% year over year.

Sales of multipurpose vehicles totaled 88,400 units, down 27.23% from a year earlier. Sales of crossed passenger vehicles totaled 21,400 units, down 16.70% from a year earlier.