||Honda, Toyota, Nissan Set Pace as August Vehicle Sales Volume Surges 17%
Japanese automakers helped lift U.S. light-vehicle sales 17 percent last month, topping forecasts and propelling the annualized selling rate to 16.1 million, the industry's best showing since late 2007.
Sales benefited from robust Labor Day holiday volume, which included August this year, as well as rising demand from individual customers and continued robust deliveries of fuel-efficient cars and large pickups.
Honda Motor Co. sales rose 27 percent, Toyota Motor Corp. volume jumped 23 percent and Nissan Motor Co. advanced 22 percent from a year earlier. At Subaru, deliveries rose 45 percent -- topping 40,000 units in a month for the first time.
General Motors' sales rose 15 percent, while Chrysler Group and Ford Motor each gained 12 percent.
Toyota said retail sales to individual customers accounted for about 90 percent of the industry's sales volume for the second month in a row.
"The auto industry continues to be a bright spot in the economic recovery," Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager, said in a statement. "August capped a great summer for new vehicle sales."
GM's retail sales -- those to individual customers -- increased 22 percent while fleet shipments dropped 8 percent.
Sales advanced 38 percent at Cadillac, 37 percent at Buick, 14 percent at GMC and 10 percent at Chevrolet.
"We have a lot of momentum and we feel good about the direction of the U.S. economy," Kurt McNeil, head of U.S. sales operations for GM, said in a statement.
GM's chief economist, Mustafa Mohatarem, said he now expects total U.S. industry sales to be as high as 16 million for the year. Automakers have now sold more light vehicles this year than in all of 2009 -- when volume hit a decades-low of 10.4 million units.
'Here to stay'
Mohatarem said sales will "definitely" be higher than GM's prior forecast of 15.5 million, though the company has not formally revised that number. Mohatarem also said he does not expect the monthly SAAR to fall below 16 million for the rest of this year.
"I think it's here to stay," he said on a conference call on Wednesday with analysts and reporters.
At Ford, car and truck volume rose 18 percent, offsetting a decline in crossover deliveries. Ford's small car deliveries climbed 30 percent and F-series pickup sales rose 22 percent to 71,115 units.
Sales rose 13 percent at the Ford division and 1 percent at Lincoln.
Ford said its retail sales were also especially strong last month, advancing 20 percent. Retail deliveries of cars were up 15 percent, utilities up 16 percent and trucks up 30 percent.
For the second month in a row, Toyota Motor outsold Ford Motor, and American Honda outsold Chrysler Group.
At Toyota, sales jumped 24 percent at the Toyota brand and 23 percent at Lexus.
Sales of the Camry rose 22 percent to nearly 45,000 units while deliveries of the Prius lineup rose 30 percent to an August record of 27,358, Toyota said.
Honda said three of its four core models -- CR-V, Accord and Civic -- each posted sales in excess of 34,000 units, helping American Honda set an August sales record of 166,432.
Nissan said it also set an August record with 120,498 sales. Volume at the Nissan brand rose 24 percent to a record 108,614; at Infiniti, deliveries advanced 7 percent to 11,884.
Robust retail volume and demand for cars and large pickups also propelled Chrysler as it posted its 41st consecutive monthly gain.
The Ram brand, with sales up 29 percent, and Dodge, with a 12 percent increase, led the gains.
Overall, Chrysler's truck sales rose 12 percent last month, with Ram pickup demand surging 31 percent to 33,009 and Jeep volume rising 8 percent.
Chrysler said its car sales rose 11 percent, helped by the Dodge Charger and Dart, and record monthly sales of nearly 4,200 at the Fiat brand.
"Last month we achieved our strongest retail sales in the past 60 months," Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler Group, said in a statement. "All aspects of our business continue to improve."
The average transaction price of a Chrysler Group vehicle sold in August was a record $30,317, reflecting strong retail sales of the Ram pickup and Jeep lineup, TrueCar estimated. Ford Motor, Honda Motor, Nissan Motor and Volkswagen Group also set monthly high marks for average transaction prices in August, TrueCar said.
Among other automakers, sales rose 46 percent at the BMW brand, 26 percent at Mazda, 24 percent at Mitsubishi, 22 percent at Audi, 15 percent at Mercedes-Benz, and 4 percent at Kia, while volume slipped 2 percent at the Volkswagen brand and 13 percent at Volvo.
Jaguar Land Rover said August sales surged 40 percent to 6,661, with Jaguar volume rising 67 percent to 1,723 and Land Rover deliveries advancing 32 percent. August marked the best retail sales month ever for Land Rover and Jaguar's best retail month since 2005, the company said.
Jaguar is benefiting from the May introduction of the F-Type convertible.
"The launch of that car is bleeding into the other vehicle lines. You see an increase in traffic in our dealerships and other models," said Jerry Curry, Jaguar brand vice president. "I do not see anything that can get in the way of us seeing sales increases this year."
The strong Labor Day holiday sales were spurred by deals on remaining 2013 models and a few 2014 models.
"August was good," said Louie Richards, sales manager at Suburban Ford of Waterford, Mich. "The pull-ahead specials that we were offering really helped to get people in."
The surge in August sales is expected to keep the U.S. auto industry on pace to post its highest annual volume in six years. The SAAR has topped 15 million units each month beginning with November 2012.
The SAAR came in at 15.8 million in July and stood at 14.5 million in August 2012.
Brandon Debarros, general sales manager at Metro Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram in Johnston, R.I., described the month as "excellent."
"We have been pushing a zero-financing Labor Day sale to try to liquidate the stock that we have, and it seems to have worked," Debarros said.
No sales tax deals
At East Tennessee Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep in Crossville, Tenn., Sales Manager Brandon Letner said corporate sales helped offset a drop in retail volume.
"The no sales tax weekend that we had really helped us to get some sales that we wouldn't have had," Letner said, referring to a promotion whereby the dealer paid state sales taxes on new-vehicle purchases.
U.S. light-vehicle sales continue to be driven by pent-up demand as consumers replace aging vehicles. Attractive finance and leasing offers, the steadily improving economy, rising housing and construction activity, and modest employment growth are also aiding demand.
"Historically low interest rates as well as very attractive lease specials fueled by high resale values are enabling consumers to buy more expensive vehicles while still keeping payments at affordable levels," said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for TrueCar. "It's a good day at the office for the manufacturers when the sales continue to grow double digits while transaction prices reach record highs."
TrueCar estimated the average transaction price of a new light-vehicle sold in August was a record $31,252, eclipsing the average transaction price of $31,228 set in December 2012.
Crossovers, large pickups, compact cars and luxury cars set the sales pace in August. Overall, light truck sales rose 19 percent to 749,351 units and car deliveries climbed 15 percent to 751,943.
Among major automakers, Ford Motor and Honda Motor have gained market share this year; Hyundai-Kia and VW Group have lost ground; and GM, Toyota, Chrysler Group and Nissan have maintained share through August.
The steady rise in sales this year has left some automakers and dealers short of certain models, and curbed sales volume at some automakers.
Hyundai's August sales advanced 8 percent to 66,101 despite limited supplies of high-volume models such as the Elantra compact, Hyundai Motor America CEO John Krafcik said via Twitter.
Inventory shortages came to a head in August, traditionally a strong sales month driven by end-of-model-year clearance sales.
In a survey by RBC Capital Markets, 19 percent of dealers said inventory was too low during the month of August. That compares with 9 percent in July and 4 percent in June.
Sales of the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Impala, Honda Odyssey and CR-V, Range Rover, Dodge Charger, Jeep Wrangler, and Ford Explorer have been limited by especially tight supplies in certain regions of the country, dealers and automakers say.
Brands that started August with the lowest stockpile of new models were Subaru, Land Rover, Audi, Hyundai, Lexus, Kia, and BMW, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Brands with the largest supply of new vehicles were Lincoln, Fiat, Cadillac, Buick and Ram.
Ford said on Wednesday it planned to boost fourth quarter North American output 7 percent to 785,000 light vehicles.
Even with tight supplies, Subaru reported record monthly sales of 41,061, a gain of 45 percent, helped by new and redesigned models such as the Forester and XV Crosstrek.
"We're certainly expecting a terrific August, just like we had in July," Tom Doll, president of Subaru of America, told Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. "My guess is we're going to be somewhere north of 40,000, which for us is a big month."
Bill Cyphers, senior vice president of sales for Subaru of America, said more than half of the company's U.S. sales this year have come from consumers new to the brand.
(Source: Automotive News, 09/04/13)
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