Vehicle sales in California on track to top 2 million, led by trucks, SUVs

The Serramonte Ford dealership in Colma, Calif. In the first half of 2018, new light truck sales exceeded car registrations in California, 54.1% to 45.9%.
(David Paul Morris / Getty Images)

The pace of sales for new cars and trucks in California continues to slow but the state remains on track to exceed 2 million new vehicle registrations for the fourth consecutive year.

The latest quarterly report from the California New Car Dealers Assn. shows slightly more than 1 million new vehicles were sold in the first half of this year, a decline of 2.2% over the first two quarters of last year.

The numbers lag in comparison to 2015, a banner year for dealers when nearly 2.1 million sales were racked up in the Golden State.


But dealers’ group President Brian Maas said the 2018 numbers are solid, especially in comparison to the depths of the Great Recession, when 2009 to 2011 saw little more than 1 million registrations recorded during an entire year.

“Dealers are selling a lot of vehicles and there’s a lot of availability for consumers,” said Maas, who was not certain of any time in which California dealers recorded more than 2 million registrations for four straight years. The auto dealers’ group has been tracking data since the mid-2000s.

The numbers released Tuesday continued to reflect a trend seen in recent years — not only in California but across the country — of consumers buying fewer cars and more pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. Car registrations in the second quarter were down 10.1% across the state while vehicles in the light truck category were up 5.6% in the figures compiled by IHS Markit.

That was reflected in Los Angeles and Orange counties, where more trucks were sold through the first six months of 2018 (174,847, up 7.5% from the same period a year earlier) than cars (166,391, down 11.1%). Overall vehicle sales fell 2.5% in the region.

In the first half of this year, new light truck sales exceeded car registrations in California, 54.1% to 45.9%. Nationally, light truck sales were up 7.7% and passenger car sales fell 12.1% in the second quarter.

“Consumers generally buy the largest vehicle they can afford,” Maas said.

“The economy is doing well, unemployment is low so consumers are saying, you know what, I’m going to get a little bit bigger car, a little bit more space, a little more utility than I might do in an era when gas prices are really high,” Maas said. Newer-model trucks and SUVs also get much better gas mileage than they did 10 years ago.


Fans of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) can take heart with some of the second-quarter numbers. While the market share for hybrid-only vehicles is lagging 0.6% behind 2017, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles were each up 0.7%.

The combined market share for all hybrids and EVs came to 10.2% year to date, a pace that would exceed the 9.4% recorded last year.

And largely due to 12,674 deliveries of its more affordable Model 3 in the first six months of this year, Tesla turned in the biggest increase in registrations by brand — a gain of 139.4% compared to its first two quarters of 2017.

Gov. Jerry Brown has upped the state’s target for ZEVs on California’s roads, from 1.5 million by 2025 to 5 million by 2030. There are just under 421,000 on the road, so the state has some work to do.

The market share leader in California through the first six months of the year was Toyota (17%), followed by Honda (12.5%) and Ford (9%).

The Honda Civic was the single best-selling vehicle in the state with just under 44,000 registrations in the first two quarters.


Best selling vehicles in California

Through June

1. Honda Civic 43,857

2. Toyota Camry 31,496

3. Honda Accord 28,201

4. Ford F Series 26,336

5. Toyota Corolla 25,911

6. Toyota RAV4 25,547

7. Toyota Tacoma 21,206

8. Honda CR-V 21,062

9. Chevy Silverado 20,628

10. Nissan Sentra 19,552

Source: IHS Markit

Twitter: @robnikolewski