NEW YORK CITY: Most automakers reported another strong month of US sales in September on Thursday, while Volkswagen’s sales were essentially flat in the wake of the German company’s pollution-cheating scandal.
Gains year-over-year in sales were double-digit strong at General Motors (+12.5 percent), Ford (+23 percent), Toyota (+16.2 percent) and Fiat Chrysler (+14 percent).
Lightweight vehicle sales totaled 1.44 million, up 15.8 percent from a year ago. The annual rate of sales, a closely watched benchmark, rose to 18.2 million, the fastest pace since July 2005, according to Autodata.
At Volkswagen, a comparatively small player in the US, sales edged up 0.6 percent, reflecting in part a mid-month halt to sales of diesel cars affected by the US investigation into the German company’s emissions controls, the company said.
“We would like to thank dealers and customers for the support of the Volkswagen brand,” said Mark McNabb, chief operating officer, Volkswagen of America. “Volkswagen will continue to work diligently to regain trust and confidence in our brand.”
Volkswagen has been under fire since US environmental regulators announced on September 18 that the company had violated air-quality rules by installing software on nearly 500,000 diesel cars intended to evade US emissions limits for nitrogen oxide and other dangerous pollutants.
Sales at the Volkswagen-owned luxury brand Audi rose 16.2 percent in September, lifting total sales from the two companies to 43,481, about 3,000 vehicles more than expected by the online car site Edmunds.com.
Edmunds had been among those predicting the VW scandal would not mar the hot auto market, a bright spot in the US economy.
“Volkswagen’s deception is dominating headlines, but it is not keeping shoppers away from other brands’ showrooms,” Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell said in a note last week.
“It puts the crisis in a little bit of perspective, since these Volkswagen diesels don’t constitute a very big share of sales. It’s also a reminder that buyers won’t disappear from the market just because they suddenly can’t or don’t want to buy these affected cars. They’re willing to turn to other automakers that will meet their needs.”
SUVs, trucks ride high
Many automakers continued to benefit from increased sales of sport utility vehicles and other large vehicles.
GM, the largest US automaker, scored sales of 251,310, about 12,000 above the forecast from Edmunds.com. The increase was particularly strong for the GMC truck line, where sales soared 23.8 percent to 47,386.
At Ford, the number-two US automaker, September sales were 221,599, behind especially
strong sales of SUVs and trucks.
Toyota notched sales of 194,399, up 16.2 percent. Sales rose sharply for such sedan staples as the Corolla and the Camry.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’s sales came in at 193,019 last month, up 13.6 percent from the year-ago period. Sales of FCA’s popular Jeep line surged 40 percent to more than 77,000 vehicles.
However, there was little evidence the company’s Fiat line had seen an impact from Pope Francis’s visit to the US last week, which included a number of well-publicized rides in the sporty Italian sedan. Fiat sales came in at 3,398, just 38 vehicles more than a year ago.
GM said there is still more running room to further boost sales, thanks in part to low gasoline prices that have boosted demand for SUVs and trucks.
“The US is adding jobs, disposable income is rising, energy prices and interest rates remain low and business continues to invest, but the fact remains this has been a slow recovery,” said Mustafa Mohatarem, chief economist at GM.
“The economy still has room to grow and so do auto sales, particularly now that the millennials are entering the workforce and starting households.”
At an investor day in Michigan, GM pledged an aggressive approach to new technologies, including autonomous vehicles, car sharing and fuel-cell propulsion.
“The convergence of rapidly improving technology and changing consumer preferences is creating an inflection point for the transportation industry not seen in decades,” said GM chief executive Mary Barra.
“Some might find this massive change to be daunting, but we look at it and see the opportunity to be a disruptor.”