September Sales: The financial crisis looks worse than the fuel crisis

October 9, 2008
0811 03 Z+chevrolet Silverado+front Three Quarter View
If zooming fuel prices earlier this summer killed sales of pickups and SUVs, then the faltering economy and now the credit crisis have pretty much choked off sales of the remainder of the market. While August saw the pain spread to all major brands, save Infiniti, Mini, Nissan, Subaru, and VW, in September, every one of those holdouts found themselves underwater, too. The only nameplates to post gains in September were tiny niche players: Maserati (up 30%), Lotus (up by 3 cars - yes, 3), Lamborghini (by 2), and Rolls-Royce (by 1).
That's how bad September was. Or, to put it another way, it was the first month with fewer than 1 million cars and trucks sold since February 1993. This is no longer a Detroit problem; it's an industry-wide problem. Toyota, for example, suffered a 33% decline in sales. Honda was down 24%. Hyundai/Kia fell 26%.
GM almost looks good by comparison. Its market share, at 29.3%, was the best in over three years, thanks to employee pricing (even for some 2009 models). But it wasn't enough to keep the Hummer brand out of the sales basement, with an industry-worst 55% decline. And GM's captive finance arm, GMAC, has quietly followed the lead of Chrysler's finance unit, and all but stopped writing leases for GM products.
The brand that did best? Audi, which was off by only 5%.
The 5 Best Selling Vehicles for September were:
  1. Chevy Silverado
  2. Ford F-Series
  3. Toyota Camry
  4. Honda Accord
  5. Honda Civic
The Silverado stays in the top spot, with the F-Series moving up from fourth to second place. Two pickups atop the heap looks more like normalcy, unless you're a Ford dealer, in which case nothing looks right unless the F-Series is number one. But at least it has pulled ahead of its passenger-car competition. And having the Camry and Accord outselling their smaller siblings, the Civic and (sixth-place) Corolla, is a return to the usual order in the U.S. automotive universe, and appears likely to remain that way, at least until the next gas-price shock.
For our in-depth look at what's selling and what isn't, the list of what isn't is so long that we've again had to raise the bar to include only sales drops of 50% or greater, except in special circumstances. And as for what's up, we're staying with upticks of 10% or better, and filtering out increases that can be counted on one's fingers.
0811 01z+nissan Quest+front Three Quarter View
WHAT'S DOWN [by 50% or worse]
The Hummer bummer continues.
H2 -66%
H3 -51%
GM probably wishes it had put this brand up for sale a year ago. Kind of like you wish you'd sold all the stocks and mutual funds in your retirement account a year ago.
Toyota FJ Cruiser -65%
Mercedes-Benz G-wagen -58%
As with the Hummers, these Tonka-like trucks have been forgotten, as buyers found something new to play with.
The SUV is no longer America's family car.
Ford Explorer -67%
Mercury Mountaineer -70%
Jeep Grand Cherokee -56%
Dodge Durango -78%
Chevy Tahoe -52%
GMC Yukon XL -54%
Toyota 4Runner -62%
Nissan Pathfinder -85%
Chevy Equinox -57%
Pontiac Torrent -56%
SUVs as a whole were still down more than any other group. They just had more company this month.
Two Jeeps too far.
Jeep Compass -65%
Jeep Commander -65%
Performing yet another monthly sales swan dive are Jeep's most ill-advised brand extensions from the go-go years when Dieter Zetsche was head of Chrysler, before he decamped for Germany to head up Daimler.
A hot August makes for a cold September.
Nissan Xterra -66%
Nissan Frontier -73%
Nissan Quest -83%
After an unnaturally fervid August - incentives, anyone? - these three Nissans collapsed in September.
Coupes falling out of fashion
BMW 6-series -64%
Scion tC -53%
Ford Mustang -52%
Mercedes-Benz CLK -51%
Suffering sports cars
Porsche Cayman -84% (and the Boxster and 911 just missed our cutoff)
BMW Z4 -66%
Honda S2000 -59%
There is no room at the margins.
Suzuki XL7 -78%
Subaru Tribeca -52%
Mitsubishi Raider -88%
Mitsubishi Endeavor -71%
Mazda Tribute -74%
Hyundai Veracruz -50%
Volvo S80 -56%
Volvo S40 -63%
Nissan Armada -64%
Infiniti QX56 -61%
Chrysler Aspen -66%
Lexus SC430 -57%
Chevy Uplander -84%
Lincoln Mark LT -52%
Isuzu I-series -56%
All of these models are marginal players in their field, and the tough times are having a disproportionate effect on them.
Miscellaneous laggards
Hyundai Tucson -65%
Ford Taurus X -64% (suffering in the switchover to the Flex)
Dodge Nitro -64% (born too late)
Toyota Tundra -61% (ambition thwarted)
Chrysler PT Cruiser -61% (once, there was a waiting list . . .)
Kia Sportage -58%
Mercury Sable -58%
Volvo XC90 -55%
Chrysler 300C -54% (see above)
Mercedes-Benz R-class -51% (the odd-duck Benz has been a laggard all year)
BMW 7-series -51% (slowing ahead of a redesign)
VW Passat -51%
Cadillac Escalades (all) -50%
Previously hot cars stumble.
The following models all had been running well ahead for the year to date, but in September they slipped backward. [This is the only instance where we're spotlighting declines of less than 50%.]
Volvo C30 -67%
Volvo can hardly afford any more bad news, and the C30 had been a bright spot.
Hyundai Elantra -49%
Kia Optima -36%
Kia Spectra -33%
Kia Rio -21%
The end of easy financing is bad news for brands like Hyundai and Kia, which have traditionally been home to lots of shaky-credit customers. The Elantra, though, had been riding high for much of this year, after a big endorsement from Consumer Reports.
Cadillac CTS -32%
Chevy Cobalt -17%
Saturn Aura -6%
Despite Employee Pricing, these GM cars declined. The CTS had been red hot, ever since last fall's successful redesign.
Honda Accord -36%
Honda Civic -13%
The Accord falters despite a relatively fresh redesign.
Nissan Altima -42%
Nissan Versa -12%
Toyota Yaris -4%
The Yaris slips just a bit, but it had been a darling back in the early summer, during the gas-price freakout.
Jeep Patriot -25%
The Patriot's slowdown started earlier, but it started off the year as a bright spot for acutely suffering Jeep dealers.
0811 02z+2009 Suzuki SX4 Sport+front Three Quarter View
WHAT'S UP [by 10% or better]
The allure of the new
Overall, the list of models enjoying a sales bump due to redesign is much shorter than in past months.
Lexus LX570 +265%
Toyota Land Cruiser +14%
In absolute numbers, the volumes of these off-roaders is still very small; interestingly, sales of the Lexus version now far outsells the Land Cruiser.
Dodge Viper +258%
Again, small volumes - 86 cars sold this September versus 24 last year - make for a huge percentage jump.
Pontiac Vibe +91%
Not just new, but also a fuel sipper, and Employee-Priced to boot
Suzuki SX4 +80%
The addition of a sedan body style makes the SX4 a much more viable player.
Honda Fit +43%
The smallest Honda continues to make big gains.
Subaru Forester +28%
Toyota Sequoia +22%
Mercedes-Benz C-class +12%
Employee-Priced GM cars
Buick Enclave +27%
Chevy Impala +17%
Chevy HHR +14%
Fuel sippers (some, anyway)
Far fewer are posting significant gains.
Mazda5 +27% (a fuel sipper for big families)
Pontiac G5 +23%
VW Jetta +14% (gets a TDI boost)
Fleet favorites
GMC Savana +117%
Chevy Express +37%
Lincoln Town Car +69%
Chevy Malibu +68%
The redesigned Malibu has been popular all year, but this month's increase is, unfortunately, due to an increase in fleet sales.
And two that are defying gravity
Hyundai Sonata +32%
Maserati (all) +30%


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2008 Chevrolet Silverado

1500 Work Truck RWD 2-Dr Reg Cab Short V6
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2008 Chevrolet Silverado