DETROIT — According to AAA, we're enjoying the lowest average fuel prices since 2004, a statistic that was reflected in robust September sales of pickups like the Ford F-Series, and SUVs such as the Jeep Cherokee.
Most of the major automakers had a very good month, with many reporting double-digit gains and a number of models setting sales records.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles logged sales of 193,019 units, a 14 percent increase compared to September 2014 and the company's best September performance since 2000.
The Jeep brand led the way for FCA with a 40 percent increase over this time last year, making September Jeep's second best sales month ever and its 24th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains.
Setting all-time records were the Jeep Cherokee SUV, which logged sales of 20,224 units (a 38 percent increase), and the Dodge Journey SUV, with sales of 10,457 units (up 45 percent). Other standouts were the Jeep Wrangler with sales of 17,583 units, a 26 percent increase over last year, and the Ram pickups, flat compared to 2014, but with sales totaling 36,598 units.
Overall, FCA's car sales were flat compared to September 2014, while trucks and SUVs showed an 18 percent gain.
"On the back of a strong sales industry we were able to achieve our best September sales in 15 years and our 66th consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth," said Reid Bigland, FCA head of U.S. Sales, in a statement. "Last month's sales strength was broad-based, with five FCA vehicles setting September sales records and two others posting their best monthly sales ever."
Ford says its total U.S. sales hit 221,599 units in September, a 23 percent jump since the same period last year and its best retail results since 2004.
The company's traditional leader, the F-Series pickup, posted sales of 69,651 units, a 16.4 percent increase over last year, making this the truck's best September since 2006.
Ford's SUVs turned in their best performance since September 2003, with sales of 64,205 units, led by the Explorer with a 38 percent increase over last year, the Edge with a 33.4 percent jump and the Escape, which outperformed September 2014 by 31.1 percent.
Ford's September sales increases were spread across passenger cars, which were up 15 percent, SUVs, up 23 percent, and trucks, up 29 percent.
The Lincoln brand turned in its best sales performance in eight years, logging sales of 8,680 units, an increase of 19.6 percent over last year. Lincoln's sales were led by the MKZ sedan with sales of 2,490 units, 14.4 percent better than last year, and the MKX SUV with unit sales of 2,136, topping 2014 by 34.4 percent.
"Our Ford and Lincoln dealers had an outstanding month, delivering strong sales, with gains in cars, SUVs and trucks in September," said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service, in a statement. "Sales of EcoBoost-equipped vehicles also were strong, driving us to an annual record for EcoBoost sales with three months left in the year."
General Motors reported total U.S. sales of 251,310 vehicles in September, an increase of 12 percent over this time last year. GM says this was the sixth consecutive month in which it increased market share, year over year.
"Staying focused on core values like initial quality, sales and service satisfaction, cost of ownership, dependability and advanced technology is paying off in higher sales and share, stronger transaction prices and lower incentives," said Kurt McNeil, GM's U.S. vice president of Sales Operations, in a statement. "Unlike our competitors, we did not need to rely on higher incentives to grow our business."
Chevrolet led the way for GM in September with total sales of 170,675 units, a 10.9 percent increase over last year, followed by GMC with 47,386 units and a 23.8 percent jump, Buick at 18,341 units and a 5 percent increase, and Cadillac with sales of 14,908 vehicles, 7.8 percent better than last year.
At Chevrolet, strong performances were turned in by the Silverado pickup (with sales of 53,725 units), the Equinox SUV (21,537), the Malibu midsize sedan (17,066) and the Cruze compact (14,032). GMC sales were led by the Sierra pickup (19,754 units) and the Terrain SUV (10,935).
Buick's leaders included the Encore (5,624 units) and Enclave (4,732) SUVs and the LaCrosse sedan (3,880), while Cadillac sales were topped by the SRX SUV (6,849 units) and the ATS sedan and coupe (2,295).
Honda posted a new September record with total U.S. sales of 133,750 vehicles, a 13.1 increase over this time last year.
Cars accounted for 69,566 of those sales, an increase of 3.5 percent over September 2014, while trucks and SUVs totaled 63,635 units for a 26.9 percent increase.
The Accord midsize sedan and coupe, perennial best-sellers, led the way with sales of 33,641 units, representing a gain of 2.1 percent over last September. And the Civic compact models made significant strides this year, jumping by 27 percent above 2014 with sales of 28,278 units.
Among Honda trucks, the CR-V compact SUV stood out with 29,925 unit sales, which was good for a 26.1 percent increase over last year, and the full-size Pilot SUV gained 30.9 percent with sales of 10,238 vehicles.
Acura, the Honda luxury brand, saw sales increase by 6.3 percent over September 2014, led by the TLX sedan, which posted sales of 4,753 units (a jump of 22.4 percent from last year), and the RDX SUV with sales of 3,848 units (19.1 percent better than 2014).
Nissan recorded total U.S. sales of 121,782 units last month, an 18.3 percent increase over the same period last year and an all-time record for the month of September.
Trucks and SUVs were the September highlight for the Nissan brand, showing a 22 percent gain over September 2014 with total sales of 52,856 vehicles. Leading the way was the Rogue compact SUV with record sales for the month of 25,064 units, a jump of 45.5 percent over last year. Other performers were the Murano (5,166 units) and Pathfinder (6,203) SUVs, each of which showed gains over last year.
Nissan's cars experienced a sales increase of 14.3 percent increase over September 2014. The best seller was the midsize Altima with sales of 24,224 units, topping last year by 12 percent, followed by the Versa subcompact, which accounted for unit sales of 18,053, a whopping 50 percent increase over the prior year and an all-time record for the month.
Infiniti, Nissan's luxury division, recorded total sales of 10,220 vehicles in September, 30.4 percent better than the same period last year. The Infiniti brand was led by the QX60 SUV, which accounted for sales of 3,845 units (an impressive gain of 76.2 over last year), and the Q50 sedan with 3,557 units.
Toyota recorded total U.S. sales of 194,370 vehicles in September, which it says is an increase of 16.2 percent over the same period in 2014.
Cars accounted for 101,767 units, up 19 percent from last year, while truck and SUV sales rose by 13.2 percent, to 92,603 vehicles.
Among Toyota trucks, the RAV4 compact SUV was a standout with September sales of 26,963 vehicles (18.7 percent better than 2014), as was the Highlander full-size SUV, which logged sales of 12,403 units (an increase of 17.7 percent).
The Lexus brand was led by the RX series of SUVs with sales of 7,759 units in September, for a gain of 4.1 percent over last year. The ES sedan posted 5,195 unit sales, down 9.2 percent from this time in 2014 but still the Lexus car volume leader.
Amid a strong sales month, the smallest amount of growth reported by any major automaker came from Volkswagen. Embroiled in its recent diesel emissions scandal, the German firm managed to squeeze out just a 0.56 percent increase over September of 2014.
"We would like to thank dealers and customers for the support of the Volkswagen brand," said Mark McNabb, chief operating officer of Volkswagen of America, in a statement. "Volkswagen will continue to work diligently to regain trust and confidence in our brand."
That may take some time. Meanwhile, a number of Volkswagen models showed decreases from last year, including the CC (down 38.8 percent), the Jetta models (down 24.1 percent) and the Beetle coupe and convertible (down 15.5 percent).
Edmunds says: Some consumers are taking advantage of bargains on outgoing 2015 models, as early adopters scoop up the latest 2016 vehicles.