||U.S. Light-Vehicle Demand Climbs 20 Percent in August
Honda, Toyota, VW, Detroit 3 Set Pace with Late-Summer Surge
U.S. auto sales -- led by Honda Motor Co., the Volkswagen Group and Toyota Motor Corp. -- jumped 20 percent last month for the strongest monthly pace in three years.
The Detroit 3 also posted double-digit sales gains for August, signaling the auto industry's recovery remains solidly on track despite sluggish economic growth, rising gasoline prices and widespread consumer uncertainty.
The seasonally adjusted sales rate for August accelerated to 14.53 million from 14.1 million in July and 12.5 million a year earlier. The results topped most analysts' forecasts and marked the highest SAAR since the U.S.-sponsored cash-for-clunkers program in August 2009.
U.S. new car and light-truck sales have advanced 15 percent to 9.7 million this year through August and remain a bright spot amid mixed economic signals and lackluster job growth.
"The auto industry continued to outperform the general economy in August," Bill Fay, Toyota group vice president and general manager, said in a statement. The company posted a 46 percent sales increase last month as it continued its recovery from an earthquake-hampered 2011.
Honda Motor Co. reported a 60 percent increase from a year earlier, when it also suffered from quake-related inventory shortages. Volume at the Honda brand jumped 58 percent to 115,675 units; Acura deliveries climbed 73 percent to 15,646 units.
Among major brands, VW led the way with a 63 percent jump, its 12th straight month of gains of at least 25 percent. Including Audi, up 13 percent, and other luxury brands, VW Group sales jumped 48 percent.
Pent-up demand, consumer discounts, new models, fleet deliveries, and more favorable credit are aiding light-vehicle sales. In some cases, automakers are also offering aggressive incentive programs that reward dealers for selling more cars and light trucks.
Chrysler sales chief Reid Bigland attributed his company's 14 percent increase in part to an "incredibly resilient" climate for auto sales.
Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automotive Dealers Association, said low interest rates, ample inventories and healthy incentives are driving the market.
"These factors support higher rates of growth of light vehicle sales growth this year and next," Taylor said on Tuesday.
August sales at the VW brand surged to 41,011 as the automaker continued to benefit from redesigned models in key segments, notably small and mid-sized sedans.
Toyota's 46-percent increase followed advances of 60 percent in June and 87 percent in May.
Chrysler was helped by a 21 percent gain in car deliveries and an 18 percent increase in Ram brand volume.
Ford Motor reported a 13 percent increase in sales last month, with retail volume up 19 percent over August 2011. Sales rose 13 percent at the Ford division and 2 percent at Lincoln.
The company said it also plans to boost fourth-quarter North American output by 7 percent -- or 50,000 vehicles -- to 725,000 over 2011 levels.
GM -- aided by Olympics advertising and a Chevrolet promotion -- said its sales rose 10 percent. GM's retail sales rose 11 percent while fleet deliveries climbed 6 percent.
Nissan Motor Co. said its U.S. sales for August totaled 98,515, up 8 percent from a year ago, while Subaru climbed 36 percent.
Hyundai Motor Co. said it set an August sales record of 61,099 units for the Hyundai brand, an increase of four percent from a year earlier.
At Jaguar Land Rover, sales jumped 31 percent last month, helped by new models such as the Range Rover Evoque.
"Clearly, August was a strong auto shopping month in the United States and for Jaguar Land Rover," Andy Goss, head of Jaguar Land Rover North America, said in a statement.
Honda, like Toyota, was expected to be among the industry's biggest gainers as it continues to recover from inventory shortages following the March 2011 earthquake in Japan. Civic sales rose 106 percent to 24,897 units last month, Honda said.
"Honda is finishing the summer on a high note," John Mendel, American Honda's executive vice president of sales, said in a statement.
August marked Chrysler's 29th consecutive monthly increase in U.S. sales, though the gains have slowed this summer from their torrid pace early this year.
The automaker continues to benefit from new or refreshed models, notably a stronger passenger car lineup, as well as generous incentives, fleet shipments and easing credit terms.
Chrysler said volume rose 25 percent at the Chrysler brand, 34 percent at Fiat, 13 percent at Dodge and 5 percent at Jeep.
Sales of the all-new Dodge Dart compact sedan totaled 3,045 units, the automaker said.
'Iron Man' strikes again
Chrysler's U.S. sales have advanced 26 percent this year, with car volume up 49 percent and truck deliveries rising 18 percent.
"Our Iron Man streak continued last month," Reid Bigland, head of the Dodge brand and U.S. sales operations for Chrysler, said in a statement. "An incredibly resilient U.S. new vehicle sales industry doesn't hurt."
TrueCar.com estimates industry incentives averaged $2,457 last month, down 2 percent from July and off 6 percent from August 2011. Chrysler, GM and Nissan offered some of the biggest deals in August, while Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda were less generous with discounts, TrueCar said.
"Underlying consumer demand remains solid," TrueCar analyst Jesse Toprak said, pointing to falling discounts and rising transaction prices compared to August 2011. "It could not be a better environment for automakers."
Toprak said the only negative facing the new-vehicle market right now is higher gas prices. Average U.S. gasoline prices rose 21 cents a gallon in the past month, Reuters says.
Among major automakers, Toyota, Honda and Chrysler have gained share this year while Ford, GM, Hyundai-Kia have lost ground. Nissan's share remains flat.
While some analysts say the sales pace could slow in the second half compared with early in the year, the industry remains on track to produce sales of 14 million units or more in 2012.
The SAAR has now topped 14 million each month this year except for January and May.
And industry sales have advanced each year since 2009, when sales plunged to a 27-year low of 10.4 million.
(Source: Automotive News, 09/04/12)
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