||U.S. Auto Sales Jump 13 Percent in September
Toyota, Honda, VW Soar; Chrysler Leads Detroit 3
U.S. auto sales, led by Toyota, Kia, American Honda and Volkswagen, rose 13 percent last month as the annualized pace of sales accelerated to 14.9 million -- the highest rate since March 2008.
The overall results topped analysts' expectations and signaled the auto industry is poised to continue overcoming mixed economic reports to finish the year on a strong note.
Passenger car demand drove industry results last month, with sales up 23 percent. Consumers continued to opt for fuel-efficient models amid high gasoline prices. Light truck volume edged up 4 percent.
Sales have climbed 15 percent to 10.9 million through September and remain on track to top 14 million for the year, automakers and analysts say.
"The auto industry had another very encouraging month in September," said Bill Fay, Toyota group vice president and general manager.
September marked the fourth consecutive month and seventh month this year the SAAR has topped 14 million. August's SAAR of 14.5 million marked the best showing since August 2009, when the U.S. government offered incentives for buyers to swap older vehicles for new models.
Low interest rates, easing credit markets, selective incentives, new and redesigned models, and pent-up demand are fueling the industry's sales gains.
At Toyota, combined sales at the Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands jumped 42 percent. It was the fourth time in five months deliveries rose 40 percent or more as the automaker continues to rebound from last year's earthquake in Japan.
The Toyota division posted a 41 percent increase, helped by passenger car sales, while Scion demand rose 76 percent and Lexus deliveries advanced 36 percent.
Sales were strong all month beginning with the Labor Day holiday, Toyota said.
At Honda, sales jumped 31 percent, with the Honda brand up 29 percent and Acura posting a 44 percent increase. Demand for the Honda Civic and Accord soared 57 percent, Honda said, while deliveries of the CR-V advanced 14 percent.
It was the fifth straight month that Honda's U.S. sales gain topped 30 percent.
"Honda is once again firing on all cylinders as we enter fall," John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president of sales, said in a statement.
Volkswagen reported sales of the VW brand climbed 34 percent and boasted it expects to continue to outperform the industry during the fourth quarter. Audi said volume rose 27 percent and said it remains on track to set an annual sales record in the United States for 2012. Overall sales for the VW group were up 32 percent.
At Kia, sales rose 35 percent to 48,105, keeping it on pace for an annual sales record this year as well. Hyundai brand sales rose 15 percent to 60,025, marking its biggest gain since February.
Chrysler Group posted a 12 percent rise, helped by a 27 percent increase in car deliveries and a 51 percent gain at Fiat.
It was the company's 30th consecutive monthly gain in U.S. sales, but the smallest advance since volume rose 10 percent in May 2011.
Deliveries at General Motors, Ford Motor and Nissan Motor Co. were mostly flat in September.
Detroit's two biggest automakers cited lower truck volume -- a traditional stronghold -- for sales that were down less than a percent at Ford and up just 1.5 percent at GM. The results mean more market share losses for the companies.
Volume at the Ford division was unchanged and Lincoln demand dropped 3 percent. Ford said retail sales climbed 4 percent last month.
Ford's car sales inched up 1.6 percent and utility vehicle volume rose 9 percent, but truck deliveries slipped 8 percent, partly as a result of the discontinuation of the Ranger pickup.
"The industry is on plan, Ford is on plan, and we're looking forward to a really good fourth quarter," said Ken Czubay, head of U.S. marketing, sales and service for Ford.
GM said car volume rose 29 percent and crossover demand inched up 3 percent. GM's truck sales slipped 20 percent, reflecting a 46 percent drop in fleet sales.
Chevrolet posted a 1.5 percent increase and Buick volume rose 8 percent, while Cadillac deliveries slipped 1.3 percent and GMC was flat. GM said retail sales at all four brands increased.
At Nissan Motor, sales slipped 1.1 percent, with the Nissan division down 2.4 percent and Infiniti advancing 11.4 percent.
Nissan and the Hyundai-Kia Group have also lost market share this year.
The BMW Group reported a 3.5 percent increase, with volume flat at the BMW brand and Mini up 23 percent.
"The economic indicators and consumer confidence are showing improvement and the traffic in our showrooms is further encouraging our optimism for the fourth quarter," Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America, said in a statement.
Deals, deals, deals
Fatter discounts on remaining 2012 models also helped drive industry sales last month.
Kelley Blue Book says the hottest segments last month were compact crossovers, large pickups and subcompact cars. Chevrolet, Ford and Chrysler offered cash rebates of $3,500 or more on full-sized pickups.
Chrysler's incentives averaged $3,256 last month, the highest among major automakers, TrueCar.com estimates.
Availability and affordability of auto financing is improving faster than home mortgage rates are falling, said Diane Swonk, chief economist with Mesirow Financial in Chicago.
That helps explain why U.S. auto sales are coming back faster than the housing market, she added.
(Source: Automotive News, 10/02/12)
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