Auto sales surge in September, hit 18.6M SAAR

Auto sales surge in September, hit 18.6M SAAR

GM, Toyota lead increases as several automakers go from year-to-date losses to gains.

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October 4, 2017
By Robert Schoenberger
Cars/Light trucks Economy

Toyota's 2018 Camry sedan gained 13% in September as the auto industry turned it great results for the first time in 2017. New vehicle launches, the lack of bad news, and increased ad spending help explain the bump.

Cleveland, Ohio – Well that’s more like it. After a lackluster summer, auto sales roared back in September, hitting record levels and pushing some companies that had been in the red all year into positive territory compared to 2016.

No every automaker had a great month, but overall sales soared past expectations, hitting an 18.6 seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR), a measure of what full-year sales would have been, based on September. It was a huge improvement from sub-17 million figures posted in July and August.

Breaking down company-by-company results:

  • General Motors 279,937; 11.9%. After July, GM’s year-to-date sales were down 3.8%. Following the double-digit increase for September, the company made up nearly all of that ground and is only down 0.8% for the year. Car sales were still awful, with nearly all growth coming from trucks. Car-heavy Buick, for example, was down 20% as trucks gained but cars nosedived 73%. Big increases for the Chevy Silverado pickup (22%), the Equinox mid-sized crossover (80% higher), and the Traverse large crossover (51%) are a great sign because the growth is coming from GM’s most profitable vehicles.
  • Toyota – 226,632; 14.9%. Call it Black September because it was the month that took Toyota from declining sales for the year to a gain. Much of that growth came from the launch of the 2018 Camry sedan, a vehicle that Toyota has been promoting heavily. Sales of that car were up 13%, one of the few gains from cars industry wide. Still, most of Toyota’s strength came from its SUVs and crossovers, led by the RAV4 (up 39%).
  • Ford – 222,248; 8.7%. It’s a simple recipe for success – have the country’s best-selling vehicle, and make sure you have a lot available. F-Series pickup sales surged more than 21%, and Ford got good numbers out of its commercial vans as well. Crossovers and SUVs were up 1% as steep declines for the Expedition (-53%) offset good numbers from the Edge and Explorer. Cars, though down, performed better than they had in months, losing only 0.2%.
  • Fiat Chrysler Automobiles LLC (FCA US) – 174,266; -10.%. One of only two major automakers to post a loss in September, Fiat Chrysler pulled back on rental-car fleet sales, and the company has been reworking its lineup, dropping vehicles such as the Chrysler 200 sedan, Dodge Dart compact car, and Jeep Patriot SUV. The biggest losses came from car-heavy Dodge (-30%). The Ram truck brand was flat (down 0.3%), and Jeep was off 4%.
  • Honda – 142,722; 6.8%. As with Toyota, September pulled Honda from a loss to a gain for the years. Unlike its peers, however, Honda’s growth came from cars. With a new Accord sedan launching this month, Honda offered some deals to clear out 2017 models, pushing sales up nearly 10%. And the Civic company jumped nearly 26% (coming off unusually poor results for September 2016).
  • Nissan – 139,932; 9.5%. Nissan’s Rogue small crossover outsold its two best-selling cars combined. More than a quarter of the Nissan and Infiniti vehicles sold last month were Rogues. Up 47%, it set a sales record for the month. Nissan was already in the black heading into September (barely), so the solid performance of the Rogue simply pushed it further into positive territory.
  • Hyundai/Kia – 109,475;  -5.5%. Following double-digit declines in July and August, Hyundai and its Kia subsidiary recovered a bit in September. Kia continues growing (up 6.6% for the month), but lower car sales are Hyundai are hurting the combined company. The biggest declines were for the company’s Elantra compact and Sonata mid-sized sedan – vehicles that compete directly against the surging Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, and Toyota Corolla.

About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 17 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.