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

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.

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