Chrysler reported a 12% sales increase in September, but sales at General Motors rose modestly and Ford was flat, as Toyota and Honda continued to reclaim market share they lost in 2011..
In fact, Toyota came within 3,100 vehicles of matching Ford’s U.S. sales. Japan’s largest automaker reported its U.S. sales jumped 41.5% from a year earlier to 171,910 units.
Honda’s sales jumped 29%, led by 57% increases of its two most popular cars, the midsize Accord and compact Civic. Honda’s Acura luxury division reported a 43.5% sales increase.
Small car sales surged in September, but several big vehicles fell flat. General Motors reported a 1.5% sales gain, Chrysler reported a 12% increase and Ford a 0.1% decrease.
Volkswagen continued its momentum, posting a 34.4% increase from September 2011.
For Chrysler, it was the best September since 2007, and the 30th straight month of year-over-year sales increases.
Sales increased 51% for Chrysler’s Fiat brand, 18% for Dodge, 10% for Jeep, 5% for Chrysler and 4% for Ram.
Consumers favored small cars in September, with Fiat surging and sales of Chrysler’s compact Dodge Dart rising 72% to 5,235 units compared with the company’s August results. GM posted a 29% sales increase for passenger cars, with the Chevrolet Cruze rising 42.5% from a year ago to 25,787 units.
Ford said car sales rose 1.6% to 50,694 units, as the sales of the Focus increased 91.4% to 19,736 units. Sales of the Fusion sedan fell 37% to 12,300 as the company prepares for the switch to the redesigned 2013 version.
“September was Ford’s best small car sales month in a decade,” said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service.
Toyota passenger cars rose 47.1% to 85,642 units. The increase reflects how weak its results were a year earlier when it cut production in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami.
But Toyota sales were still strong especially for the nation’s best-selling car, the Camry, sales of which rose 38% to 34,252. Corolla sales soared 43% to 23,026.
“Our dealers got off to a great start over Labor Day weekend and that momentum carried through the rest of the month,” said Bill Fay, Toyota group vice president and general manager, in a statement.
Although car sales were solid, several larger vehicles struggled. GM said its truck sales fell 20%, which it blamed on a “reduction in fleet sales due to the timing of customer deliveries.” Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado, which is awaiting a redesign in 2013, fell 16.6% to 36,425 units.
Fall usually marks the start of the strongest season for pickup truck sales. With the housing sector improving, several automakers said they saw encouraging signs in the pickup market despite some tepid sales figures.
“Housing is very tightly correlated to pickup sales,” said Kurt McNeil, General Motors’ vice president of U.S. sales operations. “We’re still bullish on pickup trucks and where the opportunity lies there.”
GM’s Chevrolet brand rose 1.5%, Buick rose 7.9%, Cadillac fell 1.3% and GMC was flat.
Ford’s namesake brand sold 7 fewer vehicles in September compared to a year ago. The Lincoln brand fell 3.1%.
Nissan reported U.S. sales of 91,907 units, a 1.1% decline.
The automotive industry is benefiting from low interest rates, improved housing prices, more optimistic consumers and pent-up demand from consumers with aging vehicles who are returning to dealer showrooms.
Most forecasters expect automakers will report U.S. sales for September that ran at an annualized rate between 14.4 million and 14.6 million vehicles, or about even with the pace of recent months. Morgan Stanley analysts projected an annualized rate of 15 million, which would equal the highest level since March 2008.
Jefferies and Edmunds.com projected sales will be about 10% higher than September 2011, while TrueCar.com expects a 10.5% year-over-year gain.
The University of Michigan-Thomson Reuters consumer sentiment gauge rose to 78.3 in September – the highest since May – from 74.3 in August.
Also, banks and credit unions are more willing to make auto loans at low rates. About 10% of new-car buyers in August financed their purchases with 0% loans, the highest mark in 2012.
“The vast majority of consumers that come in, credit is available,” Czubay said. “Credit is not an issue.”
Nathan Bomey & Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press