US Light Vehicle Market to See Increased Product Launch Activity in 2018, IHS Markit Says

Automakers are expected to see launch of about 75 new models in 2018; contrasting with about 53 in 2017 and an expected 56 in 2019, according to IHS Markit forecasts.

IHS Markit has reviewed expected major new-product launches from 2017 through 2019. IHS Markit finds an expected spike in launch activity for 2018 compared with 2017.

IHS Markit forecasts about 75 new models will see market sales launch throughout the calendar year. The new vehicles launched in 2018 are forecast to account for about 3.09 million units of volume in 2019—when each will have been on market for a full year.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018 10:46 am EST

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Southfield, Mich.

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IHS Markit has reviewed expected new model launches from 2017 through 2019. Counting model/bodystyle as unique launches, though not in this report include facelifts, minor model changes or powertrain updates. This approach reflects that some variations are arriving in different calendar years, and provides a broader window into overall product launch activity. While a new bodystyle is an extension of the project, there are some distinct marketing and logistics launch activities behind the introduction of each.

As largely can be expected, the SUV bodytype (including both crossover and sport utility vehicles) will see the most activity in 2018, as was true in 2017 and is projected to remain true for the next several years. Automakers continue to adjust their product offerings to be in better alignment with consumer demands. In 2018, IHS Markit projects 45 percent of the expected 75 new-model introductions will center on SUV products. Of the 34 SUVs forecast to see market launch in 2018, 18 are nameplates new to the market, while the other 16 are updates to known products (nameplates available for sale at least in 2016). By comparison, 40% of the new model launches in 2017 were SUVs; 6 were new nameplates and 17 existing products took updates. IHS Markit expects 21 percent of launch activity relative to sedan nameplates in 2018--14 existing and 2 additive products—up from 14 percent of 2017 launch activity. While sedans continue to make up a significant volume in the market, activity is highly focused in the SUV space.

Market launches for top 4 automakers: GM, Ford Motor Company, Toyota, FCA

At an automaker level, IHS Markit projects that General Motors will see introduction of 4 new models in 2018, compared with 6 in 2017. Two are all-new pickup trucks, in the form of Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. In terms of profit and volume, these two are key to GM’s North American performance. The Silverado is taking a full introduction at the 2018 North American International Auto Show, following a tease in December 2017. The other two introductions include—finally—a new SUV for Cadillac, as the XT4 is expected to see sales launch in third quarter of 2018. The XT4 will be based on GM’s Epsilon platform, variations of which are used for several sedans, including Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Malibu. IHS Markit forecasts the new premium compact CUV will be produced at the company’s plant in Fairfax, Kansas, United States plant first, with production in China also forecast to start by the end of 2018. Along with the XT4, in early 2018, Buick’s Regal TourX arrives in dealerships. With this generation of Regal, GM has opted to offer hatchback and wagon bodytypes, leaving the sedan for China only. Given that sales of utility vehicles have continued to increase at the expense of sedans, this move is expected to provide stronger legs for the model. GM is forecast to see significantly more product activity in 2019. Among the vehicles IHS Markit forecasts will see sales launch in 2019 include a EV in utility vehicle form using the Chevrolet Bolt EV platform, likely for the Buick brand; an all-new Buick Encore SUV; new-generation Chevrolet Corvette, Silverado HD, and Blazer SUV. In 2019, Cadillac will see an additional CUV, as well as new versions of CTS and ATS, due to be renamed CT5 and CT4, respectively.

Ford Motor Company is forecast to see US market launch for four new vehicles in 2018, similar to 2017. Five are expected in 2019. One of the most anticipated launches will actually slip into early 2019. After a reveal at the 2018 NAIAS, the Ford Ranger pick-up will reach dealers in early 2019. Ford is retooling the Michigan Assembly Plant to accommodate the Ranger and an expected SUV planned to launch in 2020 under the Bronco nameplate. Ford is also expected to update the Focus C-car in 2018, again in hatchback and sedan forms, though sales are also expected at the tail end of the year. In January 2018, Ford quietly launched the EcoSport B-segment CUV. The Focus will join the Buick Envision and Cadillac CT6 plug-in hybrid as vehicles imported from China for US sale.

At Lincoln, the Nautilus launches midway through the year.  A revamped version of the Lincoln MKX, it makes the list for new-model launches by virtue of its name change. The change is a mid-cycle facelift—though this does telegraph that the Lincoln brand is moving its product range to traditional names, rather than the alphabet nomenclature of today. For Ford Motor Company, 2019 is forecast to be a utility-vehicle year as well. The Ford brand is expected to see market launch of the next-generation Escape and Explorer, while Lincoln is expected to see an MKC replacement as well as an additive CUV in the E-segment.

At Toyota, three 2018 market launches will be all about sedans. In 2017, Toyota launched an all-new Camry and joined the B-segment utility market with the C-HR, while Lexus added the luxury sporty coupe, the LC. Market launches in 2018 will favor Lexus, with the all-new LS sedan on sale in the first quarter of 2018 and the next-generation ES sedan in the third quarter. Toyota will launch a new Avalon in mid-2018, set for reveal in January 2018. The Avalon takes on a tough market, as sales of larger mid-size sedans in the US have been particularly impacted by the shift to utility vehicles. Through November 2017, Toyota has reported Avalon sales down 30% compared with the same period of 2016. Some of this will be artful selling down of the outgoing product, but also a result of shifting market trends. The following year is forecast to be much busier; in 2019, the company is forecast to launch seven new vehicles. The expected launches include new generations of the Toyota Highlander, Corolla and Corolla iM, and RAV4 as well as the modern Supra. Lexus is forecast to launch the second-generation NX, as well as add a new vehicle for that brand’s utility lineup.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will have only two new model market launches in 2018, but both have major significance. In the first quarter of 2018, Jeep will see the market launch of an all-new Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited, a vehicle introduced at the 2017 AutoMobility LA show. While the Wrangler twins are not the best-selling Jeep products, they set the tone for the brand as a whole and define its rugged, capable image. The 2018 model year vehicle carries on well, integrating technology and some refinement to the package while also improving the essential off-road capability. The second major launch for FCA is the Ram 1500, which is planned for reveal at NAIAS in January 2018. The 1500 pick-up is significant for Ram in ways similar to the Silverado’s importance to GM. The 1500 is the best-selling US product for FCA, as well as the best-selling for Ram and a highly profitable vehicle. FCA is expected to carry on production of the current Ram for some time as it brings the new-generation on board, both easing the transition and ensuring no gap in pickup supply. IHS Markit forecasts sales launch later in the first quarter of 2018. In 2019, FCA will see more product launch activity, with a pickup based on the Wrangler for Jeep, a new Fiat 500 and Maserati launching new generations GranTurismo and GranCabrio.

Hyundai, Kia and Genesis are also expected to have a busy launch year in 2018. New vehicles are expected to include Hyundai Nexo fuel-cell SUV, a new Santa Fe Sport, Accent, Veloster (taking an NAIAS reveal in January), and the Kona subcompact CUV. Hyundai is also expected to launch an electric CUV in the year as well. Kia is expected to launch a new generation of its popular Soul in 2018, as well as introducing its own subcompact CUV, likely to be called Stonic as in other markets, a new Forte and a new K900 premium sedan. Genesis will see the G70 arrive, in sedan and coupe forms, though it will be in 2019 before that brand gets its first SUV.

Volkswagen Group also has a significant amount of launch activity planned for 2018 calendar year. VW is expected to launch a new Jetta, the Arteon four-door coupe, another compact CUV with the T-Roc and an updated Touareg. At Audi, IHS Markit forecasts sales launch of the latest Q3, A6, and A7. New to the Audi brand will be a large Q8 CUV—though the e-tron CUV may be launched in the US in early 2019, after being revealed in 2018. Lamborghini will sell its first CUV in the US in 2018, as the Urus goes on sale in this market as well.

Outlook and implications 

New model launch activity is forecast to spike in 2018, with IHS Markit forecasting about 75 new models being launched throughout the calendar year. The vehicles launched in 2018 are forecast to account for about 3.09 million units of volume in 2019—when each will have been on market for a full year. New-model introductions are expected to ease a bit in 2019, but come roaring back in 2020 as a number of all-new electric vehicles come on board, many currently planned to be distinct brands or nameplates.

The pickup trucks which see a market launch in 2018 are estimated to account for volume of about 826,270 units in 2019—volume split amongst only three products. The sales impact of these is more significant to US volume than any one of the 34 planned SUV launches, which are forecast to deliver about 1.28 million units of volume in 2019. While the preponderance of SUV launches reflects reaction to market shifts and pickups represent major volume opportunity, sedans continue to play an important role. Of the 16 new sedans launched in 2018, these are forecast to see 2019 sales volume of 767,000 units. SUVs bring in more volume, but the segment will continue to see increased competitiveness. There are two vans planned for 2018 market launch as well, as VW is expected to bring the Crafter to the US and Mercedes-Benz brings a new-generation of Sprinter. These two products are forecast to see sales of about 41,000 units in 2019—more than the new coupes, wagons and roadsters combined.

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