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In pictures: September sales watch

  by Byron Hurd
In pictures: September sales watch

In pictures: September sales watch

With August in the books, we're now two-thirds of the way through 2017. At this point, it looks like the heady years of the post-recovery boom are behind us. After a record-setting 2016, 2017 looks like it's going to end on a pretty low note. 

Cumulative sales for the U.S. auto industry are down roughly 3 percent at this point, but the current outlook has them falling even farther behind 2016 before the end of the year. If the recent selling rate (a poor yardstick, it could easily be argued) holds, the industry could finish more than 5 percent down when the books close on December. 

We've been following several interesting stories that have emerged from the generally gloomy sales landscape. Usually we have our eyes on the luxury market and Ford vs. GM in the pickup arena, but the former is more like a race to the bottom this year and the latter is being eclipsed thanks to a scrappy performance from Ram. 

The five examples in this feature are just snapshots, but they may give you something to think (or argue) about while you toss back the last of your summer brews. Enjoy. 
Jeep

Jeep

2017 has been particularly dismal for Fiat-Chrysler. With the exception of Ram (and, yes, Alfa; but that doesn't count), the entire brand catalog has been taking a pounding this year--Jeep included. 

And that's remarkable, since Jeep has stood out over the past several years as a right-product, right-time proposition for a company which just a few years ago was hedging on small, fuel-efficient cars when it brought Fiat back to U.S. customers. 

On paper, Jeep is down 13 percent for the year. That looks bad, but consider this: Roughly 60 percent of that lost volume is accounted for by slackening sales of the now-defunct Patriot, a model with no marketing support and dwindling inventories. 

If you remove the Patriot from the equation, Jeep's 2017 deficit drops to a little under seven percent--about half of what it's showing on paper. Keep in mind as well that the Compass required some spin-up time. It's down 36 percent so far, and it is the replacement for two reasonably high-volume vehicles.
Hyundai and Kia

Hyundai and Kia

Hyundai's and Kia's respective communications teams really hate it when we lump them together. Hopefully they're all drunk at a pool somewhere. 

To be fair, we're not really lumping them in together, strictly speaking. Think of this more as a compare and contrast. That's because the Kia brand outsold the Hyundai brand in August.

Now, if you lump Genesis back in with Hyundai, the big H comes out ahead, but we're looking strictly at the volume brands for this comparison. Hyundai's 2017 slip has been pretty dramatic. It's down more than 15 percent for the year and suffered a pretty hefty blow in August (down more than 25 percent vs last year). 

Kia isn't exactly sitting pretty itself, but its 8.4-percent slide is a lot less cringe-worthy than Hyundai's. Kia was even up 2 percent in August; it was just enough to dethrone big brother.
Subaru

Subaru

Kia's celebration of its monthly sales victory over Hyundai will have to be short-lived. Subaru has overtaken the junior Korean brand in year-to-date sales (not just monthly) on its way to... we don't even know. 

The granola empire is unstoppable. Impreza is up an absolutely stupid 44 percent year-to-date, and the brand as a whole is riding an 8-percent increase. Subaru has moved nearly double the volume of Volkswagen so far in 2017, and with only half the torque. 

Yeah, we went there.
Ram vs. Silverado

Ram vs. Silverado

You didn't think we'd forgotten, did you? Our apologies if you're getting tired of hearing about this, but we're transfixed by Ram's hard charge (we're milking it; deal) back up the sales charts. 

August was actually a poor month for Ram, relatively speaking, with a 7-percent drop compared to last year, and the same was not true for Silverado. Chevy's pickup gained ground over 2016, bringing its total for the year to 363,354 to Ram's 327,759.

While we're not completely ready to call this one for Chevy, it does look like a done deal. The only potential twist to this story involves Hurricane Harvey. After all, the devastation in east Texas took its toll on August sales numbers and will likely do the same in September. 

A biblical flood in the land of the pickup truck is not to be dismissed as an irrelevancy. As the region recovers and owners start to make insurance claims and cash in on new trucks, there could be some movement here. Enough for Ram to dethrone Silverado? Unlikely, but not completely impossible.
smart

smart

This last slide is a bit of a footnote, and that's appropriate. In this case, last is least, and that's no accident. 

smart. Poor, pitiful smart. Parent company Mercedes-Benz offered its dealers the chance to realign their smart franchises as EV-exclusive outlets or opt out entirely. Most chose to throw in the towel, and it's no mystery as to why.

The city car subsidiary has delivered fewer than 2,400 cars to Americans so far in 2017. Good luck finding a mainstream brand with lower volume than smart. The entire lineup has been outsold by the Chevrolet SS. Chew on that. 

Call this one a death watch.