General Motors led its Detroit-area rivals in September with US sales up 12 percent compared with the same month a year ago, although Ford saw a sales spike as well.
The month also featured strong performances by most other automakers, notably Toyota with an almost 15-percent increase in its US sales.
The sales increases come in the midst of recovery efforts in Texas and Florida following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but are only part of the story.
GM saw total US sales increase from 249,795 in September 2016 to 279,397 in August, led by a strong month for the Chevrolet brand. Ford’s US. sales were up in September by 8.7 percent while sales declined 10 percent for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles compared with the same month a year ago.
Ford’s numbers were boosted by a strong month for its F-series trucks.
The numbers bucked a trend of generally softer sales in recent months for the industry. In August, sales fell 11 percent at Fiat Chrysler and 2.1 percent at Ford although General Motors saw its sales increase by 7.5 percent compared with the prior August.
The numbers handily beat analysts’ expectations. An average of monthly forecasts from several groups had anticipated a slight decline of 0.4 percent.
Expecting a bump
Analysts have been predicting a bump related to hurricane recovery, although Henner Lehne, senior director of global vehicle forecasting for IHS Markit, had suggested it could be spread out into 2019 because of the lengthy process involved in insurance recovery.
Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds executive director of industry analysis, noted in a release that “when you have hundreds of thousands of people affected by an event of this magnitude, not everyone will hit the market at once.”
Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said that demand for vehicles was up across the spectrum, and in a good sign for automakers, he noted that average transaction prices were strong at $34,800, which reflects a continuing shift into pricier vehicles.
Gutierrez said the industry is on track for a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 17.1 million vehicles, and in a departure from some others, said that the sales bump from the hurricane recovery would last two to three months.
Chevrolet was up big during September compared with the same month in 2016, by more than 17 percent. GMC sales increased 9 percent and Cadillac was up 1 percent, but Buick was down 20 percent.
The company said it had its best retail performance since 2007. The effects of a strike at the Cami Assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, where the Chevrolet Equinox is made, have yet to be felt on GM’s sales numbers as the SUV sold well for the month.
“Our new crossovers from Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac have been very well-received and Chevrolet had an outstanding month with the Silverado and Colorado,” said Kurt McNeil, US vice president of sales operations. “We are entering the fourth quarter with strong momentum, great products and a healthy economy.”
The company saw an increase in sales from 204,447 in September 2016 to 222,248 last month. The company’s fleet and retail sales both experienced increases of 25.1 percent and 4.4 percent respectively for the period, although the company noted that the fleet increase was caused by order timing.
The Ford brand saw an increase of 9 percent and Lincoln was up 0.1 percent. Ford car sales were down but only slightly in an era of SUV and trucks. F-series sales were up 21.4 percent.
“Our September sales were strong across the board — including retail, commercial and government. We’re pleased to say recovery in Houston and Florida is moving quickly, with all of our dealers in the area now back up,” said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of US marketing, sales and service.
But LaNeve said in a conference call that it was a strong month regardless of the hurricane recovery, noting that Irma had kept dealerships closed for days. He noted that economic factors are positive, with interest rates still low.
The company, which saw sales drop from 192,883 in September 2016 to 174,266 last month, registered sales declines across most of its brands. Jeep fell 4 percent, Chrysler dropped 16 percent, Dodge fell 30 percent, Ram was flat and Fiat declined 24 percent. Alfa Romeo, which the company has been reintroducing to American consumers through its Giulia sedan and Stelvio SUV, saw an increase from 41 to 1,268 units.
One of the bright spots for the company was that sales of the new Jeep Compass continue to increase. That’s good news for Fiat Chrysler because the company relies heavily on its Jeep brand. The vehicle is a replacement for both the old Compass and the Patriot, and Jeep had lost market share this year as the Compass rollout ramped up.
Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader, noted that the Compass and Renegade did well and both start at less than $20,000, but she said that “came at the expense of the somewhat pricier Cherokee.”
Fiat Chrysler highlighted a drop in its fleet sales to the daily rental market of 41 percent with a 0.3-percent increase in higher margin retail sales. Company officials have, for months, described the move away from fleet sales as strategic and a way to boost profits.
Toyota sales jumped almost 15 percent to a total of 226,632 units. The company’s Toyota brand reported an almost 17 percent increase, and its Lexus brand was up 1.5 percent. Krebs said the company “far outperformed” expectations.
The company’s popular RAV4 SUV continued its hot streak, jumping 44 percent to 42,395, making it the automaker’s most popular vehicle by more than 7,600 units and, Krebs noted, beating entire brands such as Cadillac, Buick and Lincoln.
Japanese automaker Nissan notched a 9.5-percent increase to 139,932 vehicles in September, reflecting a company record for the month.
The company’s namesake Nissan brand rose 9 percent, while its Infiniti brand increased 12 percent.
Nissan’s extremely popular Rogue crossover, its most popular model, jumped 47 percent to 38,969 vehicles.
The German automaker said it delivered 32,112 VW-brand units in September, a 33-percent increase over September 2016. The company’s luxury Audi brand rose 9.6 percent to 19,308 units.
The Japanese automaker posted a 7-percent increase to 142,722 units.
That included a 7-percent gain in for the company’s namesake Honda brand in the US, and a 1-percent increase for the luxury Acura line-up.
DETROIT FREE PRESS/TNS