September Auto Sales Mixed as Calendar Forces Industry to Take a Breath
"September was a solid month for the auto industry despite two fewer selling days," said Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota division, effectively summarizing a month for the industry that likely would've been yet another step forward — if it weren't for the calendar, of all things.
It wasn't just that September 2013 had two fewer selling days — the last time that happened was in November, 2009, according to Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds.com senior analyst. Worse, probably, was the fact that the Labor Day holiday weekend and its time-honored auto-sales extravaganzas occurred in August, pulling ahead a vast number of sales that typically start off September with a pleasant shove.
That one-two punch was a body blow in September from which many makers couldn't recover — and capped the industry at 1,136,191 sales for the month, a drop of 4 percent compared with the prior September and off a steep 24 percent from Labor Day-pumped August.
September was a potentially disquieting retreat from the industry's uplifting recovery, but most acknowledged the 23-selling-day month for the likely anomaly it was — after all, September's Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) ended up at 15.3 million, hardly a baleful number. And as Caldwell further detailed, September ended a third quarter that saw industry sales total some four million units, 9 percent better than the same period last year.
Despite a slide of 11 percent in September, "We held our own when it comes to retail market share this month thanks to strong new products, including the Chevrolet Impala, Buick Encore, GMC Sierra and the Cadillac ATS and XTS," said Kurt McNeil, General Motors' vice president, U.S. sales operations. "We expect a strong finish to the year and more growth in 2014 thanks to new products and a healthier economy."
Like McNeil, most in the industry were projecting a return to the upward glide path for the fourth quarter, but there was a new potential worry: the potential impact of the shutdown of the federal government, which occurred on Oct.1.
As automakers reported September sales during the first day of the government's "closure," none would speculate on how long the shutdown might last or how it could impact auto sales and general consumer confidence. But Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service Ken Czubay probably provided the prevailing perspective: "All businesses, all Americans, are concerned about this."
GENERAL MOTORS: General Motors Co. sold 187,195 vehicles in September, down 11 percent compared with the same month a year ago. The company's statement said retail sales were off 6 percent but fleet sales dropped a hefty 27 percent — perhaps as some fleet customers may have been prepping to purchase new-generation versions of GM's fullsize pickups, which were still coming into normal availability in September.
So despite the launch of all-new versions of its light-duty pickups, sales for the seminal Chevrolet Silverado and its counterpart, the GMC Sierra, were down in September, 11 percent and 1 percent, respectively — but with Silverado and Sierra sales for the year up an identical 21 percent, most of September's decline could be attributed to the month's short 23 selling days.
The Chevrolet unit endured a 15-percent slide for the month, with mixed performances throughout: for every Malibu that was up 30 percent (on 14,487 sales) there was an Impala that declined by 25 percent. The 5,332 sales for the Tahoe (+14 percent) were offset by the Traverse's decline of 5 percent to a similar volume of 5,389 sales. And so it went throughout most of GM's divisions, although the Cruze compact car dropped a scary 51 percent to just 12,730 units and the plug-in hybrid-electric Volt, fresh off a recent $5,000 price cut, slid 38 percent to 1,766 sales.
At the Cadillac premium-vehicle unit, things looked better in September, with overall sales up 10 percent. The entry-level ATS stepped up with a whopping 348-percent gain to 2,739 units and the fullsize XTS was up 2 percent. The soon-to-be-replaced CTS dropped 22 percent to 2,408 units.
For GMC, the truck unit's September sales totaled 29,959 for a 10-percent decline. Every GMC nameplate posted a sales drop for the month, including big slides for the Yukon utility vehicles, which are due to be replaced with new-generation models in the first quarter of next year.
Buick sales were up 7 percent for the month, despite the fact sales for every nameplate declined save the Encore compact crossover, where its 3,206 incremental sales were enough to pull the division to a plus-side total for the month. Sales for the Regal plunged 30 percent to 1,300, while Buick's other four models sold in a general 3,500- to 4,000-unit bandwidth, with even the typically strong Verano compact sedan off 9 percent for the month. For the first nine months, Buick sales were up 15 percent to a total of 157,503.
FORD: Ford Motor Co. sales in September were 185,146, a 6-percent gain compared with September, 2012. On a sales-volume basis, it was the company's best September since 2006.
Sales executives admitted to slightly elevated incentives and inventory for the segment-leading F-Series pickup line while simultaneously offering that F-Series transaction prices were up $1,300 compared to last September. Whatever the details, Ford moved a thumping 60,456 F-Series for the month, a 10-percent gain amidst rival GM's launch of all-new rivals to the F-Series. For the first nine months, F-Series sales increased 21 percent to 559,506.
Ford's passenger cars also were up 14 percent in September, with all models save the Focus (off 15 percent to 16,733 sales) and the Taurus (down 10 percent to 4,279) gaining for the month. The Fusion leapt 62 percent on a favorable comparison to a short-supply September of last year, finding 19,972 buyers. The subcompact Fiesta posted another solid month, gaining 28 percent on 5,043 sales.
The shortage of selling days in September helped produce a rare off month for Ford's utility vehicles, with the best-selling Escape down slightly to 22,607 deliveries and the Edge off a more troubling 21 percent to 8,548 sales. With 13,655 sales, the midsize Explorer crossover generated a modest 1-percent increase.
At the rebuilding Lincoln premium-vehicle unit, September's encumbrances couldn't be overcome and Lincoln wound up saddled with a 5-percent decline on total sales of 6,453. It's newest model and the brand's best-seller, the MKZ midsize sedan, did produce a heartening 12-percent improvement, selling 2,874 examples. The MKS flagship also was up by 10 percent to 782 sales, but each of Lincoln's three utility vehicles posted a sales decline in September, led by a 26-percent slide for the MKX and its 1,565 sales. Lincoln sales for the first nine months totaled 59,852, a 6-percent drop compared with the same period last year.
TOYOTA: Toyota Motor Sales, which includes the Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands, reported sales of 164,457 vehicles in September, a 4-percent drop compared with September, 2012, as the company recorded its first full month of sales for one of its most critical nameplates, the Corolla compact car.
And despite the month's comparison anomalies that skidded many makers into the black (when compared with last September), the Corolla — a mix of old- and new-generation models — managed to eke out a 1-percent gain on a plump 23,251 sales.
Toyota's new Avalon large car scored a giant 187-percent improvement in September, with 4,514 sales for the month pushing the fullsize sedan to a 148-percent hike for the first nine months of 2013. Toyota also got a big gain from the Yaris subcompact, its 2,465 sales marking a 121-percent hike, but the Camry slid by 7 percent adnd the Prius hybrid-electric family dropped 16 percent to 15,890, as the ever-popular Prius was barely staying ahead of last year's sales pace (up 2 percent) through the first three quarters.
Even model from the company's Scion small-car unit save the FR-S sport coupe (+ 9 percent on 1,230 sales) endured double-digit sales declines, with some — the iQ at a meager 287 sales and the xD at 703 deliveries — commonly recording three-digit monthly sales. Despite a near-doubling of year-to-date sales for the FR-S, total sales for the Scion unit were off 4 percent for the first nine months to 54,090 for five models.
Toyota's crossover models didn't fare so well in September, in aggregate dropping 10 percent. Although 15,928 sales put the new-ish RAV4 compact crossover up by a healthy 16 percent, most of the company's larger crossovers and vans saw declines, including a 21-percent slip for the Highlander midsize crossover (on 8,661deliveries) and a 48-percent drop for the Venza to just 2,193 units. Toyota's true trucks — the Tundra full-sizer and the Tacoma midsize — dropped a respective 2.9 percent and 5.7 percent, although both remained in the black for the year.
At the Lexus upscale division, total sales were 19,522, marking a 4.2-percent drop. The new-generation IS midsize sedan led the unit's gainers with a 42-percent increase on 3,201 sales and the LS flagship saw a nice gain of 36 percent coming on just 761 units. The RX crossover was by far the brand's volume leader in September with 7,601 sales and an 8-percent hike, but the ES midsize sedan's second-place volume of 4,866 units represented a 26-percent drop.
CHRYSLER: Chrysler Group LLC sold 143,017 vehicles, an 1-percent increase compared with September, 2012, a performance that seemed pleasing enough in light of the month's scanty 23 selling days.
"Even though industry sales dipped during September, Chrysler Group still managed to eke out a slight sales increase for the month," said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales, in a statement. "Our dealers had two less selling days in September compared with a year ago, but they still outperformed the industry and extended our sales streak to 42-consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains."
That effectively summarized Chrysler's could've-been-worse September, which despite the external headwinds saw pleasing gains from the Ram pickup's 8-percent improvement to 28,145 sales and a big jump for the struggling Dart compact car, which gained 51 percent on 7,922 sales.
But the Jeep unit, inarguably the company's best asset, slid 5 percent in September as the brand hungers for new product such as the critical-but-delayed Cherokee compact crossover — the Liberty, the model the Cherokee is charged with replacing, was down to just 34 sales in September. The loss of volume in the vital compact portion of the crossover market offset the month's 19-percent gain for the Grand Cherokee and its plump 14,906 sales and respective 27-percent and 12-percent improvements for the aging Compass and Patriot models. The September slide also drug Jeep to an overall sales decline for the first nine months, with the unit's 355,385 sales representing a 3-percent drop compared with the same period in 2012.
Despite the presence of the new 500L and 500e models, Chrysler's Fiat brand was off 24 percent in September, enduring a steep 49-percent plunge for the standard 500 model, which found just 2,126 buyers for the month.
HONDA: American Honda reported sales of 105,563, a 9.9-percent drop as September's unusual shortage of selling days hit Honda seemingly disproportionately when compared with most rivals.
The month was particularly hard on the ever-popular Accord midsize sedan and coupe, which saw a 14-percent decline to 25,176 sales. The Civic small car line picked up some of the slack, where 22,983 sales marked a 7-percent increase. But the Fit subcompact car slid 15 percent on 3,981 sales and Honda's hybrid cars, the Insight four-door and CR-Z coupe, both sold fewer than 300 units for the month.
Honda's larger models fared no better, with the CR-V compact crossover saddled with a rare sales decline, its 21,439 sales in September marking a 4-percent drop compared with last year; but there was perhaps no better example of how the loss of two selling days in a month can have a marked impact: adjusted for a daily selling rate basis, CR-V sales in September would have increased by 5 percent. The month brought sales declines for every Honda utility model except the Ridgeline midsize pickup, which chalked up a 10-percent gain on 1,165 deliveries.
For Honda's Acura premium-vehicle unit, total sales in September were off a heavy 19 percent, despite a big reversal for the RLX flagship, where 311 sales represented an 815-percent hike compared with last September and the RDX compact crossover remained on its remarkable roll, up 3 percent on 3,022 sales and up 69 percent for the first nine months.
But most of Acura's model line saw reversals in September, though the redesigned MDX midsize crossover, which sold 4,539 copies to be the brand's best-seller, would have edged into positive territory on a daily selling rate measure. And for the year's first nine months, Acura sales were 4 percent ahead of last year's pace.
NISSAN: Nissan North America, which includes the Nissan and Infiniti brands, had total September sales of 86,868 in September, down 5 percent from a year ago.
Most Nissan and Infiniti models posted declines for the month, although there were a few bright spots, including a 98-percent jump for the electric Leaf, to 1,953 sales, and a continued ascendancy for the redesigned Pathfinder midsize crossover, for which 5,537 sales in September marked a 73-percent jump; year-to-date sales for Pathfinder were up 195 percent to 69,363 units.
But September mostly was a month of setbacks for Nissan and Infiniti. Nissan's best-seller, the Altima sedan, dropped to 21,221 sales, a 13-percent slide. And the recently redesigned Sentra compact car dropped 17 percent to 7,798 sales. With an all-new model just around the corner, the Rogue compact crossover pulled back by 6 percent in September on 11,353 sales and every other Nissan truck or utility model — except for the Frontier midsize pickup and its 7-percent increase — also posted a sales decline for the month.
At Infiniti, a total of 9,040 sales represented a 4-percent slide. Except for the newly introduced Q50 midsize sedan — a renamed replacement for the outgoing G-series sedan/coupe — which chipped in 2,367 sales as Infiniti's best-seller, every model in the Infiniti lineup recorded a sales decline in September, led by an 81-percent drop for the QX70 SUV's 80-percent plunge to 328 sales and the G-sedan's 37-percent drop to 1,777 units as its Q50 replacement phases into the model mix.