Curbside Newsstand: 2019 US Auto Sales Coverage, Part 6: General Motors Saved By Crossovers And Pickups; Sales Down 2.3%

chevy silverado 2019 hv auto show

2019 wasn’t particularly terrible for General Motors. The company’s four brands posted a combined 2.3% decline as demand for GM’s sedans decreased significantly. Like Ford and Hyundai, it doesn’t seem like the drop in passenger car volume impacted GM all that much. Buick and Cadillac got by just fine because of their utilities. Chevy made out alright too. Except for the Silverado. Fresh off a redesign, the full-size truck is down 1%. And it now occupies third place in the American pickup truck hierarchy, having been usurped by Ram. Trouble on the horizon? Maybe.

Let’s start with Chevy’s 2019 truck performance. GM CEO Mary Barra probably isn’t too happy with the data. Unlike Ford and FCA, GM reports the specific sales numbers of their light and heavy duty pickups, instead of lumping them together. That extra bit of transparency might go by the wayside in the future though, because the numbers aren’t good. The medium duty Silverado was down 7.1% to 131,953 units. Perhaps more importantly, the 1500 slipped 1% to 438,686 sold. GM almost certainly expected the redesigned Silverado lineup to perform better. Was it the controversial front end that turned off customers? Or is the new model just not that compelling when compared to what Ram is offering? In any event, the company is going to have to switch things up if they want to regain some of the market share they’ve lost.

“At least the Colorado did well!” is a statement that GM executives cannot say without their noses growing by at least five inches. Chevy sold 122,304 Colorados last year. That’s a 9.3% drop compared to 2018. Is the Ranger responsible for that decline? It’s a possibility. That’s a trend that might not go away anytime soon.

I’m not going delve too deeply into Chevy’s cancelled sedans because they all just posted the exact kind of double digit sales decreases you’d expect. But the deaths of the Cruze and Impala definitely skewed the brand’s 2019 sales numbers. The Cruze experienced a 66% drop and the Impala was down about 20% compared to 2018. Models like the Camaro and Malibu, which are rumored to be on the chopping block, didn’t do so hot either. GM’s muscle car trails the competition by a significant amount. Chevy convinced 48,265 people to buy a Camaro last year, which was a 5.3% drop from 2018. Dodge sold about 60,000 Challengers and Ford moved approximately 72,000 Mustangs during the same period. Like the Silverado, did buyers get turned off by the Camaro’s front end styling? It’s not outside the realm of possibility.

Chevy’s mid-size also left 2019 in a weakened position. The Malibu’s 8.7% drop left the sedan at 131,917 units sold. Fortunately, Fairfax Assembly added the Cadillac XT4 last year, so the workers can probably rest a little bit easier now that they have a crossover in their lineup.

Chevy’s crossovers spectacularly flamed out in 2019. Just kidding! Customers ate them up. The Trax jumped 29.9% to 116,816, making it one of the best performers in the subcompact segment. Its compact brethren, the Equinox, also did well. Sales were 4% higher for a total 346,048. GM is no doubt pleased with the Equinox. Chevy now sells about 100,000 of them per year when compared to 2014, when approximately 240,000 customers took one home. The Traverse only gained 0.4% last year, but it’s an older model competing in a segment that’s seen a lot of newcomers lately. Sometimes, holding your ground counts as a victory. With 101,189 sold in 2019, Chevy’s three-row ultimately did pretty well for itself. Last but not least is the Blazer. In its first year of life it convinced just over 58,000 shoppers that it was the vehicle for them. That’s well behind the Ford Edge (140k) but within spitting distance of the Nissan Murano (68k).

By contrast, the Tahoe and Suburban were disappointing. Chevy sold about 8,000 fewer examples of the duo in 2019. Don’t be fooled by that number though, because the combined 152,000 in Tahoe and Suburban sales make them far and away the segment leader. The next closest competitor is the Expedition at 86,000. A redesign this year will probably help them maintain their stranglehold on the segment.

Buick remained completely flat for 2019. An additional 70,000 in sales did not move the percentage needle due to the steep decline of the last Buick sedans. Combined sales for the LaCrosse and Regal topped out at around 17,000. That’s down from just under 30,000 in 2018. As for the Cascada, about 2,500 people thought that taking one home was a good idea.

The brand’s future clearly depends on crossovers. The Encore, Envision, and Enclave more than made up for the dying sedans. Buick’s smallest crossover continues find a substantial audience. With 102,402 sold in 2019, the Encore was up 10%. The mid-sized Envision was also up by a similar amount, with 33,229 sold. Fortune also favored the Enclave to the tune of a 3% increase. At 51,156 units, the three-row crossover sold less than the Telluride but more than the Pathfinder. With the addition of the Encore GX this year, Buick should at least be a stable brand for GM.

GMC gained some market share on the strength of its crossovers. The Acadia sold just under 100,000 units last year for a 12% gain while the compact Terrain experienced the exact opposite percentage decrease. Its sales totaled just over 100,000 for 2019. GMC’s trucks didn’t follow suit. The Canyon sold about 800 fewer examples than 2018 but it still found about 32,000 buyers last year. Sierra sales grew by slightly over 8% as 172,000 people took one home. GMC’s Yukon still sells in decent numbers too, but it experienced a 7% loss for about 74,000 sold.

Finally, Cadillac barely overcame its declining sedans for a 1% increase. Every single sedan lost volume. The CT5 only just started trickling into dealerships and the CT4 isn’t out yet, so we have yet to see if they end up resonating with customers. Crossovers fared better, with the XT5 being the exception. While Cadillac gained an additional 11,000 sales from the newly introduced XT6, it lost roughly the same amount in XT5 sales. Perhaps buyers prefer the Nautilus? In any event, the luxury brand also sold about 31,000 examples of the subcompact XT4. Escalade sales dropped by about 600 units to 35,500. Cadillac will probably improve on the figure when the new model arrives later this year.

Crossovers prevented GM from having a bad year, but trouble is on the horizon. Their trucks are facing stiff competition in the form of the Ranger and Ram 1500. However, their 2.3% drop was less than half what analysts expected. Overall, the company held its ground and will probably be fine, as long as crossovers fill the hole left by sedans. With incentive spending dropping 4.7% and the average transaction price rising 0.5%, GM probably isn’t sweating the demise of vehicles like the Cruze, Impala, and Regal.