Cleveland, Ohio – For the second month in a row, auto sales slipped in September, falling back a little less than 1%. Though any decline poses concerns, analysts had been expecting larger declines, and automakers say they haven’t resorted to profit-killing fire sales to spark demand.
For the most part, September show a continuation of the year’s trends – poor car sales but decent crossover and SUV sales – with one exception. Pickups were down with big losses from General Motors and a slight drop at Ford.
Breaking down the results:
- General Motors – 249,795. -0.6%. Analysts had expected nearly double the decline that GM posted, and in some areas, the company had a really good month. Thanks to the Cascada small car and Envision small crossover, Buick was up 14%, and apart from poor sales of the ATS small sedan, Cadillac had a good September, closing up 3%. The problems came with the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickup lines (down 8.5% and 15.5% respectively). That led to a nearly 9% plunge at GMC and a 0.3% drop at Chevy. Helping Chevy were great numbers for the Volt plug-in hybrid (up more than double), the Cruze compact (up 8.4%) and the Malibu sedan (up 26.1%). The Cruze and Malibu recently went through redesigns.
- Ford Motor Co. – 204,447. -7.7%. Ford lives and dies by its F-Series trucks, and they were down 2.6% in September. Like GM, Ford declined less than experts had expected, but the weakness in truck sales is a concern. Ford executives say most of the drop is due to timing – the company had a large number of fleet sales to governments and car-rental companies early in the year and has since slashed those sales. So more-profitable sales to retail customers are up, but fleet sales are down sharply – 36% lower for rental fleets. All of Ford’s cars fell by double digits, with the Fiesta subcompact off 39.5%. Combined, car sales fell 22.5% as low gas prices are making trucks and SUVs more attractive. Vans continued to perform well for Ford, with the Transit up 6.4% and the E-Series up 2.1%. Medium-duty truck sales more than tripled as Ford’s return to that market has won new customers.
- Toyota Motor Co. – 197,260. 1.5%. Three larger vehicles – the RAV4 and 4Runner SUVs and the Highlander crossover – were responsible for almost all of Toyota’s monthly growth, and then some. The trio of high-volume large vehicles overcame miserable car numbers (declines for everything except the Corolla compact car, up 17%). Car sales fell a combined 7.7%, and considering that Toyota gets more sales from its car side than its truck/SUV side, that can be a problem. Toyota’s Tundra full-sized pickup bucked the downward trend of Ford and GM, climbing 18.2% during the month. Toyota’s truck sales are far below GM’s and Ford’s, so that company’s gains didn’t offset a bad month for pickups.
- FCA US LLC – 192,883. . -7.7%-0.9%. For months, Fiat Chrysler had posted big increases as rivals slipped. It was the only major automaker to post a gain in August. But that streak ended in September, and the numbers would have been a lot worse had it not been for big cash-back deals on Ram pickups that pushed truck sales up 29%. But stead producers failed to produce. Jeep, a brand that continued to grow as other portions of FCA weakened, dropped 3% in the month, dragged lower by poor numbers for the Wrangler, Cherokee, and Renegade. At Dodge, the soon-to-end production Dart fell 63%, overshadowing what otherwise would have been a good month for the brand (big increases for the Charger and Challenger).
- American Honda – 133,655. -0.1%. Honda posted record sales for some vehicles, and overall sales were flat (down 95 units from a year ago). Cars were down 4.6%, normally a big challenge for the car-heavy automaker. But trucks and SUVs more than made up the difference with big contributions from the new Ridgeline pickup (3,318 units, up from 2 a year ago), and the compact HR-V crossover. The larger CR-V had its best September ever, and sales of the Fit subcompact more than tripled.
- Nissan Motor Co. – 116,384. 4.3%. Another company that exceeded expectations in September, Nissan’s sales were good enough to move up a notch, beating Hyundai/Kia to the No. 6 spot by fewer than 600 vehicles. The Altima sedan topped 25,000 units (up 3.3%), a return to strength for the No. 3 family car in the market. But the bigger numbers came on the truck/SUV side. Though the Ford sales more F-150s in a weekend than Nissan sells Titans in a month, the redesigned pickup more than doubled to 2,484 units in the month. The Rogue small crossover, Nissan’s best-selling vehicle, continued its remarkable two-year run with a 5.6% increase.
- Hyundai/Kia – 115,830. 1.8%. On the Hyundai side of the ledger, good numbers for the Santa Fe SUV and Accent subcompact pulled the entire brand forward, overcoming declines from the Sonata sedan, Elantra compact, and Tucson crossover. At Kia, sales fell slightly as strong gains for the Rio subcompact and Forte compact failed to offset declines from the Optima sedan, Sorento SUV, and Soul small car.